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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.”

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Daniella Byck

Daniella joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a University of Wisconsin-Madison grad and lives in Logan Circle.