While many store owners are locking their doors and switching to virtual retail to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, grocery stores remain open.
These supermarkets and corner stores, some of the only businesses still allowing customers to flow in and out freely, must now operate with caution and adapt to keep people safe. Store workers wear masks, place tape on the floor indicating where customers should stand and urge shoppers to sanitize baskets and carts.
For Ted Tyrrell, assistant manager at Canopy Street Market, these changes have been cause for worry.
Canopy Street Market is a small grocery store, located in the heart of the Haymarket, where many restaurants and bars are closing — some even laying off employees. Because his business is part of the neighborhood, Tyrell said he is anxious about the effect the closures might have on his store and its neighbors.
“Nobody can say they’ve been through anything like this,” Tyrrell said. “For me, it’s been a lot of anxiety due to what’s going to happen next.”
At first, Tyrrell said his employees were worried COVID-19 would mean the loss of their job. However, after weeks of extra shifts and increased business, they learned the pandemic had the opposite effect for grocery store employees. Now Tyrrell and his employees are more concerned about the businesses around them.
Tyrrell said he makes sure to ask about their customers’ well-being each time they shop. In return, shoppers inquire about the unfulfilled needs of the store and occasionally offer help. After being on a waitlist to receive face masks for weeks, Tyrrell said one of his customers volunteered to make 30 masks for the Canopy Street Market team — two for each employee.
This communal gesture is just one example of how their clientele has backed the business, Tyrrell said.
“That’s the feel we have with our customers — it’s a neighborhood store,” Tyrrell said. “We’re all part of the same group, so it was very nice of that customer to do that.”
Further south in Lincoln, stores are also having to adjust to the chaos.
Natalie Summers, a manager at A Street Market, said the pandemic has caused shortages of essential items like yeast, eggs and toilet paper. Like many other stores, Summers said A Street Market has had to limit customers to one of each of those essential items per shopping trip.
And with shortages of hygienic items, A Street Market’s employees have had to be especially inventive. Summers said A Street Market’s owner created face masks for each of their employees, as well as sanitizer to protect workers from COVID-19.
Summers said the precautions taken by A Street Market have eased the concerns of employees and shoppers.
“I think everyone is worried, but we’re doing our best to keep sanitizing and keep safe and healthy,” Summers said. “I’m just listening to what the news is saying and doing what’s recommended.”
In the Haymarket, Tyrrell is also following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by putting signs around his store that advise customers where to stand to maintain social distancing guidelines. Tyrrell said he’s encouraged to see patrons eager to follow guidelines with little dispute — most are wearing masks, almost all keep to themselves.
“It’s been interesting to see that a lot of people are taking it very seriously,” Tyrrell said. “I like to see that most people are trying to help the problem instead of dismissing it.”
Additionally, Tyrrell said it’s been uplifting to see his clientele support one another during a bleak time. The community aspect is what keeps neighborhood grocery stores like Canopy Street Market open.
“A lot of our customers are business owners in the area,” Tyrrell said. “The whole neighborhood sort of rallies behind each other.”