Eric Hargrave | General Manager

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tremendous amount of change in an incredibly short time to our Co-op. Of course, it has been a similar experience for all grocery stores throughout the world as we look for a balance of safety, service, and sanity.

Consider the changes for our store staff in just the past seven weeks. Out of a team of ten people, four have left the Co-op for various reasons; two were sick and had to stay home for 10 days or more; one decided to join the store after working in the cafe for just one week; another left two bakery shifts in order to support the store full-time; another came back from school three months early and decided to go to work right away; and we just hired one more courageous person. Everyone who remains took on extra shifts or duties because of the workload we were facing overnight; the number of pre-orders quadrupled compared to a year ago (that is many, many heavy bags along with a stack of paperwork); we set up a delivery and pickup service, which means staff are doing the shopping directly and spending a lot more time on the phone; we are seeing fewer people but the average basket has more than doubled, which means longer transactions and more stocking; we have to clean and disinfect multiple surfaces on a regular basis; we are filling bags for customers because they can’t use the bulk bins themselves; and, with reduced hours and many new rules, we are doing more in less time every day.

We understand that our members have had to face just as many changes. Along with all other retail organizations throughout BC, we have a lot of rules now; we expect people to check in as they enter the building; we expect everyone to use hand sanitizer as they enter the building; we expect everyone to leave their personal bags at home; we expect everyone to follow physical distancing protocols; we expect everyone to use one door as an entrance and the other door as an exit; and we expect everyone to stay home if they’re sick. The Co-op is not currently a social place to linger and chat. We recognize that so much changed in such a short time, and yet it’s beyond our control; these rules are mandated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the BC Centre of Disease Control. We don’t like being the enforcers, but that’s one of our roles right now in order to keep everyone safe. We thank you for your patience and we ask for your continued cooperation.

From a long-term perspective, we can see the ways that we’re all benefiting from these challenging times. In the greater world, we are recognizing that grocery store staff are essential front-line workers that deserve more; at the Co-op, this means we are paying all store staff an extra $2 per hour for all the extra work they’re doing and risks they’re taking. In the greater world, we are seeing the importance of shopping local and building local and regional food systems; at the Co-op, this means that we saw a 30% increase in sales during March and April. What if grocery store workers were paid better all the time? What if everyone on the island always did their grocery shopping on the island? We are finding out right now, and the results are positive in those regards.

We do not expect our circumstances to stay this way from now on, and yet we know that life may never be the same. We are heading towards the “new normal” that everyone is talking about, and yet no one knows what it will look like – for the world or for the Co-op. However, from what I’ve seen, we’re heading in a good direction. I see how incredibly hard the Co-op staff are working on behalf of others. I see how many generous offers of support we continue to receive – from a multitude of organizations and individuals in BC (I just counted eight of them who have reached out to me). I see how our members are giving back through tips, gratitude, and understanding to myself and our staff. I see how our Board has looked for more ways to volunteer and support.

So, in these challenging times, let’s leave behind the old adage of “Desperate times call for desperate measures” and replace it with “Extreme times call for extreme kindness.” May it be so.