(to see a full list of changes to our store and operations as affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, see this post)
Any update to what your Co-op is doing to continue service to this community needs to start with an acknowledgment of the hard work and dedication of the Belfast Co-op workers. As I have said many times, none of us signed up for this. Every day that the co-op is open our staff is working to ensure that our neighbors have what they need to stay healthy and strong while also doing what they can to protect themselves. It is exhausting work, both physically and psychologically. I don’t believe that they are looking for praise, however, please don’t forget what a crucial role they are playing in keeping our local food economy going when you are shopping and do what you can to keep them safe.
What a strange new world. This global pandemic has forced us to reexamine many of the things that are fundamental to how our co-op operates. It often feels like every decision I am making to keep our operation going goes against everything that I have learned in my career as a grocer. Limit the number of people in the store. Don’t let shoppers congregate. Don’t offer samples. Despite all of these internal conflicts, the core beliefs that holds true under any circumstances is that we must do everything in our power to ensure the health, safety, and continued employment of our workers.
To that end we have expanded our customer expectations to include the following:
- No product returns
- No reuseable bags
- No bottle returns
- No reused bulk containers
These recent changes to operations are antithetical to our commitment to environmental sustainability and our goal of reducing plastic usage storewide, however we feel that the risk of exposure to our staff in the current crisis outweighs those concerns. Though we have drastically increased the rigor, consistency, and frequency of our sanitizing procedures, according to the National Institute of Health the virus is capable of remaining on surfaces for up to three days and allowing outside containers adds one more level of exposure for our staff.
These guidelines are in addition to the previously stated expectations:
- Don’t come into the Co-op if you are exhibiting symptoms
- Sanitize your hands before entering the Co-op
- Don’t ask to shake hands with any staff member
- Remove knit gloves before shopping
- Only touch products you intend to buy
- Respect staff members’ personal space
- Don’t linger in the store any longer than necessary
- Consider using electronic payments if possible
In another bizarre contradiction to how we have historically operated, next week we will be installing acrylic barriers between customers and our cashiers. Our Front End workers are arguably more vulnerable than any other subsect of our staff. They are the public ambassadors of the Co-op and literally interact with thousands of people every week. They are immensely valuable to keeping our cooperative moving forward during this uncertain time and anything we can do to protect them has to take priority.
Thank you to everyone that has continued to support your co-op either in-store or by utilizing our Shop for Me curbside pickup service. We have been overwhelmed, not only by the sheer volume of orders, but also by the encouragement we have received from those utilizing our services. Thank you for being so kind and understanding as we adjust to new procedures. We need your support now and we will continue to need it in the weeks and months to come. I know that this is difficult for all of us, but we will get through it together. Our co-op will survive. Our community will survive.
Belfast Co-op General Manager