UPDATE: Following are some messages from locals. We completely agree, and send a shout-out to all our local businesses and staff.
“My family and I are also so grateful for what Phil, Shannon and their staff are doing to not only fill the shelves but keeping everyone safe with the safety measures they are taking at their store.” — Petra Browning
“ I just want to give a shout out to Coach Phil (Leboudec, who was coaching minor hockey before games were cancelled) who has been working extremely hard to keep his store open and with as much inventory as he can get his hands on.I don’t think anyone in the community has worked harder to fulfill the needs of the people in the area while at the same time concerning himself with the his employees’ and customers’ safety before his own.When this is all over, we have to make sure we do not forget about those people in our community like Phil who go above and beyond for sake of others.” – James Cadeau
“Big thanks to Phil and Shannon, they are doing an exceptional job and I think they both deserve a medal after this.” -Justin Williams
As the news around us changes from one minute to the next, our grocery stores are continuing to do all they can to meet the needs of the community, while protecting the health of customers and staff.
The measures they are taking are also changing, so what was the case yesterday may not be today, and may be different yet again tomorrow.
Monday morning our federal government was telling us extreme measures could be coming, but we weren’t there yet. However by Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford closed down all but essential services, effective Tuesday at midnight. Grocery stores and pharmacies are considered essential, but Ford said more information would be released about what else would be allowed to remain open.
Phil Leboudec, of Phil’s valu-mart, says his main concern now is keeping staff safe. Some members of the public were not getting the message about staying home after travelling, or if they have symptoms, and that is a problem. If one staff member contracts COVID-19, the store will close, and that will affect the whole community, says Leboudec.
He has taken extra steps to keep staff and customers safe. On Saturday, under directions from Loblaws head office, he began restricting the number of customers in the store at one time to 30, allowing for physical distancing. Those who were waiting for their turn to shop were asked to line up outside, adhering to the two-metre distance required between them.
He also took the unusual measure of having community volunteers stopping people at the door, asking them if they had recently returned from travelling, or if they had any symptoms, such as a fever, cough or sore throat.
Local resident Cory Abt has volunteered to help — he also did some shelf-stocking for Leboudec — and was the first to take his place outside the door.
Many shoppers had already heard a limited number of people were being allowed in, and most were very understanding about what was on Saturday a 15-minute wait.
The few who weren’t, he says, were dealt with by others in line.
There were four people who said they had recently returned from travelling and were unaware they weren’t supposed to be out grocery shopping, says Abt, but they didn’t argue when told they should go home — they just asked how they were supposed to get their groceries. When he told them they could order online at PC Express and pick them up outside, they went home to place an order, or to ask family members to help out.
“Everybody was complying. It was pretty easy,” says Abt. “If the staff at the grocery store don’t feel comfortable, they will stop coming to work, and the store will shut down.”
Leboudec says Loblaws has been great about making proactive decisions and coming up with new initiatives to keep everyone safe — all the individual stores have to do is follow the corporate lead.
He says plastic shields are being installed at each check-out in every Loblaws store, protecting staff and customers, and although on Saturday he didn’t know when, he expected it to happen soon.
He worries about his staff, and he worries about his family, but he also feels a responsibility to keep the store open for the community. He says he hasn’t a lot of patience for people who are complaining, but for the most part, “the support is far greater than the few complaints we are getting.”
Shelves are being refilled, with limits on some items, and as for those who are shopping for groceries, “we can’t know if they’re being honest, but hopefully they are.”
He has been encouraging online ordering, but it’s difficult to keep up when customers are placing $600 orders, instead of ordering just what they need, he says. That has resulted in a delay in filling orders.
“The online ordering system was only designed to complement shopping,” he says. “It wasn’t intended for the way it’s being used, both with the number of orders or the size of the orders.”
Tony Hendriks of Hendriks valu-mart is also taking precautions for his staff and customers.
He has instituted a policy of 10 people at a time in the store, since his is considerably smaller than others. He hasn’t had an issue with people having to line up to get in, and as long as he keeps to 10 to 15 people at most, there is a comfortable distance between shoppers.
In response to the concerns of his cashiers, he’s asking for customers to pay by debit or credit. If a customer wants to pay with cash, he or one of the cashiers, wearing gloves, will take it, but he says most are okay with using their cards.
He is relying on his customers’ good judgement to stay home and isolate as needed, and although he has heard that hasn’t always happened, “those cases are rare,” he says.
The number of customers, and the amount they are buying, has changed from last week – it’s returning to what he would normally expect for this time of year.
Shelves are being stocked every two days, and with the exception of a few items not available from suppliers, he’s well-stocked.
“We’re a small store, and we’re not usually busy now. That makes it a little easier for us.”