Safe shopping: the challenges of managing a grocery store in the middle of COVID-19

Grocer Antonio Leto never imagined he would manage an essential service during a global health pandemic, but that’s what he was inadvertently instructed to keep his customers, staff and himself at home. COVID-19 shelter.

“Entering the store was never so stressful,” admitted Leto, who runs a Metro store in Toronto. But now, “you feel this kind of feeling in your stomach before you even enter.”

To alleviate these anxieties, Leto, like many grocers around the world, has put together a list of steps to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“We wash each stroller before it is used by a customer, we wash any basket before it is used by a customer, we have a caretaker throughout the washing sections of the day, we we stop between clients to wash the [checkout] belts, “said Leto.

His store even went so far as to set an alarm that goes off every 25 minutes to remind cashiers to wash their hands.

Staff at a Toronto subway store disinfect grocery carts after customers have used them. (Antonio Leto)

“See the success and all the hard work and dedication of all the employees in the store and how they come together and work for the community – I guess it’s satisfaction that keeps us going through the day,” said Leto.

“Never been more proud”

Chris Karsisiotis, store manager for Loblaws at their Maple Leaf Gardens location in downtown Toronto, can understand this feeling of pride.

“I have been a store manager for 11 years with our large company, I did not expect anything like this, but I will say that I am very proud. I have never been so proud to work for this company,” said Karsisiotis.

Chris Karsisiotis, director of a Loblaws in Toronto, asks customers to touch only what they intend to buy, shop alone and respect social distance while in the store. (Submitted by Chris Karsisiotis)

His store put plexiglass in front of the cashiers and they placed decals six feet apart on the floor to promote social distancing. They also placed directional arrows in the aisles to show customers the safest traffic flow.

There are customers who cooperate. Some are not.– Chris Karsisiotis, store manager Loblaws

The success of these measures in preventing the spread of the virus really depends on how customers choose to behave in the store, said Karsisiotis.

He and his staff constantly educate buyers on how they should act.

“There are customers who cooperate. Some do not. But when you start telling them why we are doing this, for their safety, people start to understand,” he said.

Karsisiotis said he hoped that by asking customers to physically distance themselves, to touch only what they intended to buy, to ask only one person per household to shop and to put on gloves disposable in the trash and not on the sidewalk, all buyers would start taking these steps. to keep everyone safe.

Leto said that some of the buyers at its metro location were not taking the steps seriously.

“Customers don’t understand what’s going on with COVID-19,” he said.

For example, he still sees regular customers who live near stores once a day, which public health officials have advised against doing to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Leto also said that he had to constantly remind customers that “the goal is to go shopping alone”.

Ask for understanding

Kristy Farrell, who runs a Sobeys store in Saskatoon, said she would like to see more understanding from customers when they see an empty shelf.

Sobeys manager Kristy Farrell stands next to a poster that an anonymous customer has pasted on the window of her Saskatoon store. (Submitted by Kristy Farrell)

“We do twice the time to make sure they have what they need when they come to all of our stores,” she said.

Farrell pointed out that “the effort we are making to try to secure” the products is something that “the customer doesn’t necessarily see behind the scenes”.

The majority of her customers, she said, are respectful and even express their thanks.

Farrell was pleasantly surprised when she arrived at work at the start of the pandemic and saw a sign recorded in her store by a customer who said “You Are Heroes”.

“Things like that are well worth the effort for my [employees] when they can see that the work they do is fully appreciated by our community. “

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