Grocery store workers have always had a tough job, often logging long hours, on their feet, sometimes dealing with unruly customers. Of course the pandemic added even more stress and difficulty to the job — from diffusing toilet paper brawls to keeping shelves stocked to ensuring everyone’s following safety protocols.
Local grocery store employee unions have been calling on big-box retailers to improve safety standards for employees. Some have gotten ill, some have passed away. And yet, employees must show up and risk their health in order to make ends meet and serve the community.
Fortunately, it appears as if at least one local grocery store is meeting the challenge. Lucky’s, in North Boulder, is now back under local ownership after a dalliance with Kroger. Though that means Lucky’s may not have as many resources as it did under the large corporation’s control, it’s provided an opportunity to reconnect with the local community.
“We’ve had our challenges, to say the least, but our community has been by our side through and through, so that’s something I hold so much pride in,” says Christin Evans, who manages the natural supplements section at the market. “People come in and they know us by name and we know them by name. It really is something where we can connect.”
Evans manages an interesting department in an international health crisis. People come in, and because it’s Boulder, already know about the benefits of ashwagandha and elderberry syrup and zinc — in fact, keeping vitamin C supplements and other immune boosters in stock has been a challenge.
Evans also says CBD products have been popular, as customers hope a drop or two throughout the day will curb anxiety.
“Some people come in, it’s just the stress of everything getting to them,” Evans says. “Any time stress eats at us it makes us susceptible to an array of illnesses. I think people are targeting stress and immune [system] more than anything.”
As customers wiped out shelves and stocked up for Armageddon, Lucky’s managers found themselves ordering, for instance, pounds and pounds of bulk beans and rice in order to meet demand. In other stores, that may have led to confrontation, but Evans says most community members have been respectful, even if the occasional mask-dropper pops in.
“It can be a challenge at times. I think more so at the end of the day, we can have customers come in that may not want to wear the mask. … Most people are receptive, but you’re always going to have a customer that’s a little hard-headed, and we do the best we can to ensure the safety for everybody.”
If there’s a silver lining in all this, Evans says, it’s that people are choosing to spend locally after flocking to big-box stores as the pandemic set in almost a year ago. We’ve had time to reflect on the impact our spending has on the community right now.
Evans is optimistic for the future and grateful for the community that was cultivated in the past year. The idea of retail therapy — that shopping makes you feel better — has always had vapid connotations, but Evans has seen first-hand how supporting a local business and making connections in a tough time can have a positive impact.
“I think more than anything we take a sense of appreciation on a deeper level than we ever had before,” she says. “To go from being able to go and hit that brewery with our friends, or even in a café, to having it pulled away where nothing was accessible, our hearts grow fonder for what we appreciate.”