Post #653: Shopping trip 4/16/2020

Posted on April 17, 2020

If you still hold a grudge against Fresh Market, due to the Norm’s incident, may want to think about getting over that.  I haven’t been to Whole Foods yet, but as of yesterday, I’ve struck both Safeway and Giant off the list of places I will shop.  I’m a Fresh Market fan now.

Fresh Market is doing this right.  If in-person grocery shopping makes you uneasy (and it should), I suggest you give them a try.  Yesterday they were fully stocked, and they were clearly taking the CDC guidance on mask use seriously.

I did my weekly grocery shopping ritual yesterday.  (Wash hands, drive to store, put on mask, use paper towel scraps to (e.g.) open freezer doors, you-touch-it-you-bought it, maintain social distance, do not bring re-usable bags, pay with credit card, get back home, drop mask in paper bag to decontaminate, wash hands, put away groceries, wash hands.  And done.)

I actually went to two stores, over the course of the day, trying to get all the items on the list.

Fresh Market is doing this right.  They have a mandatory mask policy.  Their employees take this seriously.  All of them had some sort of high-quality face covering.  Almost all the shoppers took it seriously.  I saw only one shopper with a minimal face covering (scarf).

Seeing all the employees and shoppers take this seriously, and seeing the store fully stocked, made it look safe.  And feel safe.   First, because the store appeared to be taking most precautions (although their coffee section should be closed, in my opinion.)  Second, due to self-selection of the clientele, almost all I saw was other people who are taking this just as seriously as I am.

So, what about the people who think that wearing a mask in public is some kind of a joke?  Or think that social distancing is optional, as long as they feel OK right now? 

They just don’t go there. Instead, these days, those folks shop and work at Giant.  Some Giant employees seemed to get it.  Some Giant shoppers seemed to get it.  Many did not.  In ways that had me saying, several times in the course of a short trip, you really shouldn’t be doing that right now.

So, the aisles are now one-way.  Which is smart. 

But that also means that if a couple of employees are standing next to each other, chit-chatting, with no masks on, in front of their pallets of merchandise, and the item you seek is on the other side of them, then you, the shopper, can’t get to the food.  Not and obey the social distance rules.  Not without having to walk in front of a couple of people who are talking loudly in public with no mask.  (Which is a stupidly unnecessary risk, in my view, given what I see as the likelihood of short-range aerosol transmission by asymptomatic individuals. (Post #631).)  Or, not without having to ask a couple of grocery store clerks to please shut up and get out of my way, which I was not willing to do.

So that smart corporate policy is being undermined by employees who just don’t get it.  And by a management that will not require employees to wear masks.  And, I guess, by management that, as a matter of public health policy, doesn’t grasp that you should not require customers to be in close proximity to non-masked employees, merely to access the products the store has to offer.

There are no guarantees in a situation like this.  The only thing you can do is minimize your risks.  I’m willing to take some risks, within reason, because I think the benefits outweigh the risks.  I’m not willing to take stupid and unnecessary risks under any circumstances.  And a store with stupid and unnecessary risks is how I now look at Giant.  They just don’t get it.

So, in light of the change in CDC guidance, I’ve now struck two local grocery stores off my list (Safeway, and now Giant).  And I’ve decided that if I can buy it at Fresh Market, I will.  Because they get it.  I haven’t shopped at Whole Foods yet

Normally, as an economist, I’d say that if enough of us vote with our dollars, those stores will get the message.  But, under current circumstances, they have more business than they can handle.  It’s not clear they would even care of people started going elsewhere.  All I can say is, this is going to result in a permanent change in my shopping habits.  If enough people do the same, maybe, in hindsight, these stores will figure out that they should have taken the CDC guidance a lot more seriously.

After getting blown off by Safeway over the issue of employee masks, I’m not even going to bother trying to call Giant.  I’m just shopping elsewhere.