As more and more places of business close or become ghost town-like due to coronavirus and the subsequent warnings to stay home, L.A. supermarkets are the exception. Long lines and hoarders have brought a desperate, apocalyptic feel to our shopping excursions in recent weeks. The supermarkets are crowded hotbeds of fear and chaos, but a little consideration can make things so much better and quicker. L.A. Weekly spoke with a supermarket clerk at one of the busiest stores in Los Angeles and asked what we — the public — can do so that we can all shop, if not happily, at least a lil’ more efficiently. Here, some important Do’s and Don’ts.
I work in a grocery store in a central area of Los Angeles where patrons come from all walks of life, a myriad of neighborhoods and from all across the globe. Like many, I first started hearing rumblings about the coronavirus in February, when it was reported as a problem specific to China. I thought it was just another over-reaction to a distant and exotic type of illness but after last week, after we were hit with huge crowds, panicked customers and empty shelves, I realized it was serious. Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled these tips to make your shopping during a pandemic easier. Use them!
DO: Call first if you’re making a trip for something specific and be prepared to be on hold for a long time. The store will be understaffed and busy, and no, 20 minutes isn’t a long time to wait on hold. If you hang up and call back you won’t jump to the front of the call line. Yep, you’re still gonna have to hold while the employees do their best to help all of the people who were there before you. Be patient, the first person you speak with on the phone will probably be in a different department dealing with a lot of customers. Don’t get pissy if they can’t answer your specific question right away (unless it’s something general like the hours) or run over to check if there are currently any eggs, milk or size 2T diapers. They’ll get you to someone in that area who can answer more efficiently. Feel free to ask if their shipments are delivered daily. Not all stores get things from every department delivered daily. Try to find out what’s the best time to come in after everything’s been restocked; this time varies if the store has an overnight crew or not.
DON’T: Come with a group if you do decide to venture out to the store. This makes it less likely for everyone to be able to maintain a safe distance from each other when you’re chatting and not paying attention. You’re more likely to bump into others, which at this time people are really sensitive about. If you’re in a big group, posting pics of empty shelves on your stories for the ‘gram and taking pictures of the long lines to send to your mom in Jersey are the kind of behaviors likely to make you unaware that the express lines now start at the back of the store. You will increase your speed, minimize distractions and be able to focus on what you’re really looking for if you roll in solo.
DO: Try to go to stores where you know the layout so that you can quickly and easily find the things you came for. Employees would love to help you and are there for you but you can’t always locate us when there are throngs of people. You might not want to wait if there are already 10 other customers waiting around each employee to ask questions or wanting to be walked to the area/items that they couldn’t find.
DON’T: Think that there is a bunch of stuff hidden away in “the back.” The back rooms aren’t a mythical land of abundance. Sorry to break that news to anyone who has never worked retail. The stores want to sell as much as possible. Part of our job is to keep the shelves full, and trust me we’re working at double the normal pace to keep them stocked. If you walk into a market and see all empty shelves where the toilet paper should be, it’s safe to assume that there’s none in the back. Please don’t become angry when we say we’re out of something because we’ve already stocked that section. Our stockrooms are emptier now than they’ve ever been.
DO: Practice good hygiene. One silver lining about this pandemic is that it’s made everyone more conscious about their dirty little habits. Please refrain from touching and digging into your ears/nose/mouth and then touching anything that other people are going to touch. This is food we’re talking about — would you want to buy that head of lettuce if you knew that the person ahead of you had just picked some food out of their teeth and then touched it and put it back? No? Well no one else does either especially not when contagion abounds. If you really need to cough or sneeze, please excuse yourself and walk away from other people before it happens and please put the crook of your inner elbow tightly over your lower face. If you’re wearing gloves, keep in mind that they’re not a magic shield. You still need to exercise careful handling of everything around you that many others are going to touch as well.
DON’T: Assume you’re the only one who thought to get there right when the store opens. Right now, 500 other people have the same idea. Every store will have a line when it opens. Most stores are limiting the amount of people that can go in at once. The morning can be a good time to catch the restock, although this isn’t guaranteed at every store and every section is different.
DO: Know that if you come to the grocery store after you get off work, your choices will be limited. You can still find some things on the shelves in the evening but more than likely only the priciest brands and the most unpopular flavors will remain, so I hope you enjoy that frozen pineapple and jalapeno pizza. (DO: Resist the urge to yell at employees about this.)
DON’T: Cut the line!
DON’T: Act like you don’t see someone giving space to the person ahead of them.
DON’T: Pretend that because you’re on the phone, you didn’t notice the 35 people lined up behind you. Take a moment to look at the lines right when you get into the store so you can decide whether you have the time to wait in line or not. They will be long. People will have HUGE carts full of groceries. Cutting the line causes fights and rightly so. If someone has been patiently waiting for 30 minutes to check out, how very dare you try to step in front of them. JUST DON’T DO IT!
DO: Stick to the limits on how much you can buy of each item. Please read any posted signs about how many of each item you’re allowed to buy at one time. It’s extremely aggravating for you and everyone else in the line if you decide to have a full-scale meltdown as you’re checking out because you didn’t look at the sign. Is that really the hill you wanna die on? Those limits are there for a reason, so that there’s enough to be distributed to other people.
DON’T: Ask for anyone to hold things for you when they come back in stock. This isn’t allowed most of the time anyway, but no one is going to jeopardize their job so that you can swing in at 9 p.m. and grab that last 24 pack of toilet paper. First come, first served.
DO: Offer to help bag your own stuff. I know that people aren’t used to this and may be intimidated by it but now’s a great time to learn. You can pack your eggs and bread exactly where you want them (if you’re lucky enough to score them). If you’re fast and polite, you can really restore that cashier’s faith in humanity after being yelled at by panicking customers all day.
DON’T: Leave without a sincere thanks to the people who helped you. Whether they climbed up to the top shelf to grab the last whatever, checked in the back even though they knew there was none in there, walked you to the cheese section and gave recommendations, or helped you out to your car with your huge pack of waters — thank them. Retail work isn’t generally respected, but this crisis has taught everyone that our services are needed. We’re some of the last people standing and standing at the lower end of the pay scale. Right now we are interacting with the public more than ever and putting ourselves at risk to boot. Plus, we are some of the only people it’s essential for you to interact with right now. Make it a pleasant experience for both of us, please.