First it was “no salad bar, hot bar or soups.” Then it was “no bulk bins.” Then your Co-op could not get toilet paper or flour or rice. Then our deliveries were shorted (we literally got only crackers one day – that was it!) because the warehouse workers just simply could not keep up with demand. For over a year, we have asked you to bring your own bags, and then we told you to leave them in the car. Then we said, “only 10 people in the store at a time” and kept a Co-op Bouncer outside to monitor the crowd. Then we closed for a couple of days to regroup. And then we put social distancing rulers on our floors and begged you to not touch our staff and to keep your distance. We also created an entirely new way for you to shop online and receive your order curbside. And we are now preparing to give you a new, more robust tool to use to order. There’s been so much change, and it doesn’t feel very co-opy – believe us, we know!

We hear the positive praise and accolades, of course. Thank you for uplifting our staff! We also hear complaints about where we are falling short – either not doing enough or that we are doing too much. We feel like it’s time to address some of those things and to be transparent with you about how decisions are made. The very first thing we want you to know is that our staff and their safety will be the first priority in all of our decisions.

We serve a diverse crowd of people, we’ve always known this and it is exactly why we love what we do! Our community granted us a lot of grace as we tried new things  to get you food and ensure that your family was well fed – we thank you for that! 

Six weeks ago, we saw three times the number of customers we would normally serve in a week. Now, because we limit the number of people in the store and because of the convenience of our curbside pickup, we see half as many customers face to face.  Nothing about those early days of the pandemic felt good and there are still days that do not feel good. We do not say ANY of this to pat ourselves on the back. We say this now to hopefully provide you with a different viewpoint – of the ground zero of retail grocery stores. 

Now, the question of to mask or not to mask has come into play. Right now, today, we fall on the side of allowing you to decide if you will wear your mask in the store, and we allow our staff the option to decide that for themselves as well. We know some of you agree with us, while some of you do not. Some of you have told us you will not shop with us until we require it, and some of you have told us that you will not shop with us if we do require it. We do know that some individuals can not wear a mask for health reasons, which we completely understand. We also ask that you respect our staff’s ability to make that decision for themselves. Pleasing all owners and customers during this time is actually an impossible task, and if you know anything about our staff, impossible is not in their vocabulary.

Some folks have questioned the commitment of our staff in serving the needs of our customers and have told us that we are failing our community. Some customers have been quite upset at the present inability to accept case orders, telling staff that it is simply down to staff not being willing to try harder. We understand that frustration because we feel it too!  Our goal is to serve all of our customer’s needs while working within the limitations of our distribution channels. This has been an inconvenience to everyone in one way or another. However, this is only temporary, and is in no way due to staff’s lack of commitment or willingness to serve you! 

Every day these incredible people show up, look through out of stock lists that are pages and pages long, and strategize the best way to order for that day. Not for the week or month – that DAY. We are not able to plan like we used to, it’s literally a day by day decision on what we will order to maximize our pallet space to best serve the majority of our customers. Unfortunately there are days we know that some other customers’ favorites might not make it into the order that day. It is not our goal to disappoint you and it’s frustrating, borderline demoralizing, when we are not able to meet the lofty expectations that we were able to meet just 6 short weeks ago.

Can you believe all of this has transpired in just 42 days? Neither can we. 

We are doing things now that we have said never, ever, ever do. I never thought I’d see the day when it was perfectly ‘normal’ to hang a clear plastic shower curtain to protect our cashiers, that we would limit the number of shoppers in our store, that we would have someone stand at our door and ask people to not touch staff, to buy what they touch, that we would debate whether we should close the store to get a much needed break or forge ahead and take our lumps, that we would need to remind our customers to please stay 6 feet away from staff, and to please, please, please not touch them. 

I also never thought I’d see the day that I’d write a piece like this. 

This is our new normal and the one thing we will always do is keep our staff safe. Without them, we can not provide for our community. Without our staff there is no Co-op. Without our owners there is no Co-op. Without all of us helping each other through this, together, there is no Co-op. 

Overnight, your Co-op had to change the way we do business, and we did it with a smile, a very weary smile, but a smile. We are still YOUR Co-op. Thank you for being here with us and for us! We appreciate the support we have been given throughout this pandemic and we will continue to do our very best, even if we sometimes fall short, to serve you in the best way we possibly can. We will always keep trying. Always. 

Written by: Stephanie Aman, Marketing and Community Relations Manager