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Notes from a food co-op employee

By Janet Topal

It is mid-March and the realization that Covid-19 is here to stay, has set in.

3/16 Monday – This is the first day of the new store hours starting at 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. to accommodate seniors and immunocompromised shoppers. We arrive at the store at 5:30 a.m. somewhat apprehensive because we are not sure how popular this will be.


6 a.m. - Store opens with customers waiting outside. The store is busier than expected. Many of the customers are grateful for the early morning hours. People are filling up carts. There is a lot of panic buying. I spent most of the day bagging groceries.  I focused on helping as many of the customers out of store as quickly as possible.


NOTE: We are now required to wear masks and gloves. Not many customers are wearing masks.


MEANWHILE: A customer came in and said it was the first time she had been out of the house in a while. She told us she had stage four cancer and even though her family was helping her, she wanted to shop for herself. The early hours made her feel comfortable enough to come in.


3/23-3/27 – I spent the rest of the week bagging groceries during the busiest times. Otherwise I was stocking shelves. Delivery trucks are sporadic. Shelves are about 50% full. People are in total panic buying mode. I realized that every day this week has been like pre-holiday shopping. We set the highest store sales record ever. Went home exhausted.


NOTE: People are patient waiting in long lines and are filling multiple shopping carts. I helped people with large orders load their cars. Some said the extra food was for children suddenly home from school.


3/28 Saturday – I don’t usually work on the weekends. Got to the store at 7:30 a.m. to help unload two trucks. Store was busy when it opened at 8 am.  I worked on stocking the baking aisle for four hours. Flour and yeast were very popular items.  


NOTE: Customers were taking baking soda and flour from me as I was stocking the shelf.


3/30 Monday – Got to work at 6:30 am to help bag groceries for seniors and stock shelves. The seniors came but the delivery truck did not. The truck broke down on the way over and did not come in until noon. By then the morning crew was sent home and my coworkers and I, from administration office, were left to stock shelves. I filled the chip aisle for the third time this week. Apparently, people like their chips and salsa during a pandemic.


MEANWHILE: While out on the floor, I had one customer walk away disappointed because we did not have veggie sticks. I convinced him to buy veggie chips instead, same thing different shape. He still walked away dejected. I figure, life must be wonderful for this man, if he had to settle for veggies chips instead of veggie sticks.


MEANWHILE: I saw a couple casually strolling the aisles without a care in the world. Sounded like they were on a first date, making small talk in the tofu aisle.


MEANWHILE: A family came in to shop and browse, as if this were their fun family event for the day, with the children touching everything. Simply clueless. I had an extremely hard time holding my tongue.


4/1 -4/3– Tried wearing the N95 mask my mother sent me. She had bought it in the hardware store, a while ago. I wore it for 10 minutes and had to take it off. I seriously do not know how people can work with these things on all day. I have a renewed appreciation for health care workers. Spent most of the day restocking shelves wearing a cloth mask that the store provided. It was flimsy but at least I could breathe.

MEANWHILE: Noticed a mom with two teenagers in the aisles. The mom was shopping, and the kids were busy on their phones. No one was wearing masks. Really? Aren’t the kids old enough to stay home?


NOTE: On the upside I noticed many more people wearing masks.


The rest of the month of April and into May the store has made some changes:

  • There is now a limit of 50 customers in the store. It’s strange to hear announcements like “Gooood morning Co-op shoppers, thank you for shopping with us today, we are currently at our store limit so please wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose, follow the arrows on the floor and shop with intention. Thank you for making the co-op a safe place to shop!” said with an airline stewardess voice.

  • The store opens everyday with fun and inspirational tunes such as Ike and Tina Turner’s version “Proud Mary” and the theme song from ROCKY. Now it that doesn’t get you movin’.

  • Daily lunch and dinner are provided for staff. This helps with staff appreciation and keeps deli workers employed.

  • Curbside ordering is now provided. Customers enjoy this service, especially the ones that order over $800 worth of food and complain that the twelve double fudge chocolate tarts they ordered weren’t chocolatey enough.  Sigh

  • The café has been turned into a in-store plants department.


Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine I would be risking my health going to work, in a marketing department, for a local food co-op. In normal times, the co-op is a community within a community. Not only is It a haven for nourishing food, it also provides in-store educational classes and community outreach.


So why do I continue to venture into a place of risk? It is my small way of helping-out the community and the small business I work for. I want to do my part to make sure my small, socially conscious, food co-op stays in business. I appreciate the fact that I still have a job. Finally, the co-op is a place that strives to put people, planet over profit.




Janet Topal

I am member and one a many owners of Honest Weight Food Co-op. I work in the marketing department as the Merchandising and Promotions Associate. I design and produce sales flyers and signs for in-store promotions. I work with department managers to develop promotions for the store. I support the promotions with food sampling and raffles. Not a bad gig.

Janet Topal
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