News & Politics

Read This Heartfelt Frontline Account From a Safeway Grocery Store Clerk

"I had a lady scream at me because I didn't have gloves on."

Photo via the UFCW Local400 Flickr page.
Coronavirus 2020

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Grocery store workers are seeing the best and worst of people right now. We talked to Jane St. Louis, a clerk at a Safeway in Damascus, Maryland, about what that’s like. She works in pricing, bagging, stocking shelves, and as a cashier:

“It doesn’t even compare to a snowstorm, and snowstorms are pretty crazy. In the beginning, we did double our business that we normally do on a day to day basis. Sometimes we tripled it. We’re wiping out the shelves. A customer was really upset because we were completely out of milk and she just started crying, and she’s like, ‘I have five people in my house. How am I going to get milk, I really need it.’ Because we didn’t even have any powdered milk. I think our store was the fourth store she had been to and they didn’t have milk.

“I noticed customers are watching how I’m bagging stuff. So I just try to have a conversation to try to ease them. I also do pricing so I’m always hanging tags or signs, and a couple days ago, I had a lady scream at me because I didn’t have gloves on. I really can’t use gloves because the backing of the tags get really sticky and you end up with a big mess. I have a face mask. I showed her the hand sanitizer in my cart that I use frequently, and it just didn’t seem to calm her down. You’ll get three or four people like that a day. Then you’ll get another one at that level and you’re like, Oh my gosh, why am I doing this? You’ll end up having to go into a back room to calm down because somebody else touched you instead of saying, ‘Excuse me’ [before passing by].

Jane St. Louis has worked at Safeway for almost 28 years. She is a union shop steward for UFCW Local 400. Photo courtesy of Jane St. Louis.

“I have asthma so that scares me. We were having senior hour one day when a man came down our spaghetti aisle. He’s coughing. He’s not covering his mouth. He has no mask. I freaked out. I’m like, Okay, Jane, you had your mask on, at least you had your mask on. But I was angry and I just felt like it was so inconsiderate that he wasn’t thinking about anybody else.

“We had a couple customers bring in cookies, banana bread, wanting to make us feel appreciated. It’s very, very good, because before all this, let’s face it: Working in a grocery store, a lot of people make you feel like you’re beneath them. When you feel like Why am I putting myself in danger? and then a customer who has come for a long time says, ‘Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing,’ that’s one of those moments when you step back and say, I’m doing it for somebody else.”

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.