By Neri Frank ‘23, Assistant Layout Editor
In an effort to limit large gatherings and minimize the spread of COVID-19, the government has mandated that all non-essential businesses close indefinitely. Essential businesses like grocery stores remain open, but with an epidemic as contagious as the coronavirus, even shopping for food has become dangerous. Thus grocers are faced with the challenge of ensuring that customers follow social distancing guidelines at their stores. Many big businesses, like Target, Walmart and Costco, have put limits on how many people are allowed in the store at one time in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. On April 3rd, Walmart released a statement saying that their stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet, meaning that customers will fill only around 20 percent of each store’s capacity. Dacona Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Walmart U.S., explained, “While many of our customers have been following the advice of the medical community regarding social distancing and safety, we have been concerned to still see some behaviors in our stores that put undue risk on our people.” As a result of these measures, lines of people standing six feet apart stretch outside many major grocery stores in Manhattan, sometimes winding around the block.
Walmart was also among the stores that have implemented senior citizen shopping hours, which allow people of age 60 and older to shop at the store before it opens to the general public in order to protect the most at-risk customers. Other businesses that have implemented senior shopping windows include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Target, and Stop and Shop.
Stop and Shop released a statement in the New York Times a few weeks ago stating that shoppers must respect the store’s policies so workers can stay safe. This is especially important because if many grocery store employees get sick, it will be harder for everyone to get their groceries. In addition, minimum wage workers are being forced to go into work everyday with a high risk of getting sick and even dying. Many supermarket employees are either sick with COVID-19 or have died from it and the shoppers need to help do their part in preventing that as best they can. Many supermarkets require customers to wear a mask while in the store or have made their aisles one-way to make it easier to keep social distance.
The New York City Council introduced sweeping legislation which gave grocery store employees more rights, including hazard pay. This legislation states that if there are more than one hundred employees in one grocery store at a time, employees should receive hazard pay, higher than minimum wage due to the circumstance. Many smaller stores and chains in the grocery business, Morton Williams for example, say that if this legislation is passed they will close their stores because of the financial hardship it will cause. In addition, they believe that the competition from larger stores, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, is too much for this time and they are not getting as much business as they should. Small businesses really need the support of their customers at the present time.