AT WORKS — Big John’s Market deli department manager Hans Amador works on stocking the store.

Being a grocery store worker during a pandemic is hard and sometimes anxious work

The scene at Big John’s Market has changed drastically.

Customers who run into friends or neighbors while shopping and take the time to chat are now six feet apart from one another, scared to come even an inch closer. Brightly colored tape spaced six feet apart line the aisles leading up to the check stands to remind folks to socially distance, employees don face coverings and masks and shelves that once held stacks of toilet paper are now empty.

Deli team leader Hans Amador’s role as a grocer at Big John’s has also changed to that of an essential, front line worker, and while grocers now face the danger of being exposed to COVID-19 as well as the mania of customers panic-buying , Amador says he is just grateful to still have a job despite all of the changes.

However, that’s not to say that life as a grocer is not challenging right now.

“Every day you go in there it is like a double-edged sword, you are putting yourself at risk for this virus, but you do not want to lose your hours,” Amador said.

To give readers a sense of what it is like as a grocer during the pandemic, Amador described his typical day.

“When you’re walking in you see the guy sanitizing the carts and you have to have your mask and everyone in the store has masks on. We’ve put down tape markers every six feet all the way to the middle of the aisles from the registers and signs everywhere with ‘Please keep your social distancing.’ You go in and even if you are trying to forget about it and trying to go about your life and you see everyone with masks on, you can’t forget about it,” he said. “In the beginning it was super crazy, we could not keep products on the shelves.

“As soon as you would stock any of the chicken or anything like that, it was getting grabbed. I don’t think that the toilet paper and the sanitizer has been on the shelves for more than a few hours the whole time, even as of last week. Last week I was helping out in grocery and I was stocking the aisle and people were still asking ‘When are you going to get hand sanitizer, when are you going to get toilet paper?’ and because of the way everything is going I really don’t have a solid answer.”

He said some customers also ask if he can check in the back for items, and despite knowing that his search will be in vain, Amador trudges back to the stock room anyways.

“People have asked if I can check in the back, but of course it is not there,” he said.

From the deli side, Amador said customers tend to buy pounds and pounds of deli meat so they can either freeze it or have food for the week.

In terms of sanitation and safe practices, Amador said everyday he walks in he sees someone outside on cart sanitizing duty and the walls of the employee break room have transformed, showing off posters that remind employees to stay home if they have a fever or aren’t feeling well. The loudspeakers in the store that once played cheery pop music and announced the day’s specials now frequently announce the social distancing requirements and Amador, who has always practiced frequent hygiene, now finds himself vigorously washing his hands multiple times a day and is avoiding touching door knobs or handles.

“I take some precautions and I try not to touch the handles to the bathrooms and use my shirt, but I am not too nervous necessarily,” he said when asked if he was scared about going to work. “But it is in the back of your head the whole time. You could be going to work and bringing this back home to your roommates or your family.” Amador lives in Windsor and has three other roommates.

He also works as a realtor, a job that could be done from home. When asked what he would do if he had a choice of staying home or working, Amador said it would be difficult to stay home with just his realtor job since “the majority of the real estate world is shut down.”

He said you can’t really do showings right now and while you can do a virtual showing, it is unlikely that a buyer will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase a house sight unseen.

“As of right now, I would stay going to work. Depending on how it gets in the next couple of months, if everybody is catching it it would definitely cross my mind to want to stay at home, but I would lose my mind even more so than I am now if I wasn’t working,” he said.

What is business like in the store?

Amador says business lately is hit or miss. Sometimes it can be very slow and quiet and other days it can be bustling and crowded.

“You do not know what to expect. Some days in the deli it is super slow and you may have to help out in grocery and stock shelves, or you can get rushes all day long and since we’ve had to cut back on people — since it was slower in the deli and we had more people than we needed — so now when we get that busy it is just almost too much,” he said.

He said during the first few weeks of the shelter-in-place order, folks were panic buying, however, the mania is slowing down a bit.

“You still see people with full carts, maybe buying for the week, but I feel like we are starting to have a bit more of a flow and it is not too crazy. People are coming in early to try and beat the crowds,” Amador said.

He said for the most part, customers have been polite and appreciative, however, once in a while, some people will act as if they are on a short fuse.

“There are some customers that come in and are super thankful, ‘Thank you for being here, thank you for coming to work,’ and there are others who are just kind of short. For the most part everybody has been pretty nice,” he said.

When asked how he feels about being thought of a hero and a front line worker, Amador said it is nice to feel appreciated, however, he feels blessed to still have a job and a paycheck.

“But to think you are going to work as a grocery store worker as an essential worker and being on the front lines as some people have said, it is kind of cool. It is nice to be appreciated, but I am just super grateful to have my job still,” he said.

For Amador, the most challenging aspect of all of this has been adjusting to a new routine.

He said since the start of the outbreak there have been less employees and more cautious behavior.

“There are less employees and more caution. You have that thought in the back of your head and you just do not know what to expect every day when you come in,” he said.

On the other hand, the most rewarding aspect of the job has been being able to make a difference.

Amador said of the rewarding aspects, “I guess being able to feel like you are doing some good in the community and giving back and helping others just by doing your normal job and showing up and being there for people who need to eat.”

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