While shopping at Loblaws recently, I was advised by the employee who handed me a shopping cart that “As of tomorrow, we’re only allowing 50 people in the store at a time” so I should “expect that there may be a lineup.” I thanked him for the “heads-up”.  I entered the store and was greeted by a woman wearing a PPE Mask, who pumped sanitizer onto our hands and offered me a wipe to disinfect the handle of the cart. My son glanced up at me with an inquisitive expression on his face and said, “Well, that’s not normal.” He was both excited and curious to see the empty shelves that he had been hearing the world at large talk about and post online. He was particularly keen to see the toilet paper aisle. He’s ten years old.

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While we’ve certainly been practicing social distancing – we’re also trying to adapt to our “new normal” and do essential activities that we’d typically take part in. Walking the dog. Bike rides. And yes, even picking up groceries (in a non-hoarding fashion). This will likely, and hopefully be one of the most significant catastrophes my three sons will live through. And at the ages of 10,12 and 15, it’s one that they’ll likely remember forever. They’re still young enough not to be scared (I’ve asked and keep a close eye), young enough to be excited that school is pretty much “done” (albeit with an online learning alternative) but old enough to understand that we need to take precautions and that life will look a little bit “different” for the foreseeable future. 

Our trip down grocery lane, was different – to say the least. No eggs. No potatoes. No toilet paper. No meat.  And as prescribed by three young boys to the shopping list – no Kraft Dinner. (Also no pancake mix FYI).

As we started to gather whatever items were available on our list, we passed a handful of other shoppers – it was oddly comforting to see some uncovered faces, similar to ours.  It reminded me of something else that’s been missing, besides toilet paper and Lysol wipes. Smiles. There’s less of them. Which makes you really appreciate them when you stumble across them. We were fortunate to catch a few that morning.

While we were in the very early stages of navigating our very familiar path up and down the aisles, and had yet only had a handful of colourful produce in our cart, I felt a sense of relief. I was extremely grateful to Loblaws for managing my meals (and my anxiety.) Instead of silent gratitude however, I made sure to express it out loud, so my ten year old could hear me. After all, we know that children learn what they live.

Despite some “ghost” fridges and shelves, I trusted and believed the words in the emails and announcements that many of us received earlier in the week from Galen Weston. I trusted and believed that my family would not go hungry. I trusted and believed that it wasn’t a zero sum game and that we did not have to buy herculean amounts of anything. There would be enough for all of us.

While my shopping list was altered because of what was available and what was not, we made some substitutions. We remembered the important lesson and in the famous words of the Rolling Stones, “You don’t always get what you want… but you get what you need.”

While the first choices on our list may not have been available, there were others.  We remembered that even in a depleted and seemingly rampaged store, there were many options to fill our fridges, pantries and bellies. Thank you.

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The other thing I trusted and believed is that Loblaws and “The Weston’s” were making extraordinary efforts in unprecedented times to help us adapt to our “new normal”. We continued our very familiar path and made our way to the deli counter to place our “normal” order of “300 grams of nitrate free turkey please.”

My son leaned on the counter, pressing his hands on the glass, (remember – he’s a ten year old boy and as such, we’re seeking progress, not perfection when it comes to our preventative measures and increased hygiene). As per usual, I was “on him” to not leave fingerprints on the glass, respecting the employees who keep it clean. This time however, I had an additional motive.  The lady working behind the deli counter noticed as well.  Her “maternal side” must have kicked in, as she reminded him “Honey, you don’t want to touch the glass. There might be people who touched it before you who’s hands weren’t clean.” He took a step back after cleaning his hands with the wipe she handed him.

“Thank you,” I said, for the wipe and the reminder. But I also thanked her for coming to work, and joining the front lines so that families like mine that live in the community could buy food. She laughed, and replied “The Weston’s are getting richer and we’re getting overworked.  I cringed. And once again, I knew that I had to express what I was thinking in my head and say the words out loud, so that my son could hear.

I started with a soft chuckle and responded, “I’m not sure anyone is getting rich these days. In fact, if anything, I think Loblaws, has truly stepped up during this chaos. I think “The Weston’s” (with a tone of defensiveness) have demonstrated excellent leadership and communication with everyone.” That’s another type of front line that people tend to ignore and don’t express gratitude toward, despite having its own risks and vulnerabilities. Galen Weston has not been afraid to step into this front line. Thank you.

When we got home, we unpacked what anyone would consider to be a sufficient amount of groceries, although with less superfluous items than we might have typically come home with. Thank you.

Shortly after,  I received a text from a colleague with a picture of a local hardware store near his cottage in Barrie,  selling sanitizers (i.e. gouging customers) for $14.99. They had just lost themselves a customer, he said. I called my youngest son who had just finished shopping with me to come and see the picture. He immediately acknowledged “That’s wrong.” I remind you, he’s ten years old.  What he lacks in experience or years, he makes up for in integrity… unlike the hardware store owner in Barrie.

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Tim Wu’s article in the Times, “The Life and Death of the Local Hardware Store” focused on the growing casualties of local, neighbourhood stores (especially hardware stores) due to competition from e-commerce and increasing rents. These are (were) the forces reshaping our economy.

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Today, we have a new one – COVID-19. We’re all just beginning to predict and understand how this will impact our economy. So while the reshaping of our economy has traditionally been a result of new models that make current ones no longer viable (hello Netflix, farewell Blockbuster) there are some “survivors.” Wu’s article shared the story of a local hardware store in New York that survived (up until recently), because of greater convenience, prices, specialization and service. Places like these “foster relationships within the community, and actually become a vital part of the infrastructure of a city – [and] play a social role that the giants cannot replicate.” Take note. Examples like the one from Barrie, show that stores sometimes don’t survive trying times for other reasons. Stupidity. Greed. Some might call it survival. But it’s short-sighted.

A far better example from companies that also seek survival is well demonstrated in an open letter that Canadian business leaders have collectively signed in an effort to reduce the spread of this virus, and serve the best interest of employees, their families and communities.  It can very simplistically be summarized as “short term pain, for long term gain”, realizing that we will be most effective if we join in these measures together.  Together they have implemented the following measures:

  • urging employees to stop non-essential travel (business trips included)
  • help employees practice social distancing, whether it be work-from-home, ensuring sick pay, cancelling events and offering mental health services for social isolation.
  • Maintain essential services to Canadians, protecting health of employees in the front line offering critical services.
  • Acting as a trusted resource for information with clear and consistent communication that reflect the latest guidance from public health agencies.

Each of these efforts, cost companies time and money, and have an impact on their bottom line.

Galen Weston, as you might imagine, has signed this letter, as have many others.  In my opinion, “The Weston’s”  known as Loblaws to most, have done an extraordinary job at each of the above mentioned efforts. My most recent communication coming just this morning.

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Keep up the good work. People are people and some may throw stones – I for one, will be  among  the many loyal customers, ready to deflect them for you. And while times are changing rapidly and we may need to adapt and implement further protective measures, we applaud your progress. We know that “perfect” is not possible. Well done! 

Thank you.

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