Since mid-March, the world inside our co-op and surrounding it seems like something from a sci-fi movie. When fears of COVID-19 came to Pittsburgh in February, we had no way of knowing we would soon experience six consecutive weeks of record sales. In June, our year-to-date sales increase was 4.7%, of which 2% is from COVID-19 panic shopping.
As strange as experiencing a pandemic is, it has been a time for us to shine, demonstrate our resilience, and stake our place as an essential business in our community.
At the outset of the pandemic, our supply chain took a massive hit. Many staples that our member-owners and shoppers were looking for ran out very quickly, and our distributors struggled to recover at the rate folks wanted and needed to buy everything. Our shelves were bare in many areas of the store in a way that was hard to look at sometimes and even harder to answer the questions of “when will it be back?”
Our Bulk Department quickly went from being an affordable way to shop sustainably and reduce our environmental impact to having limited options–many of them packed in plastic bags for safety. By the time you read this article, our Bulk Department should look a bit more normal. We are switching many of our scoops bins to gravity bins, which will allow us to offer our usual bulk food selection once again. Our Café, who has suffered the most, no longer has a salad bar or a hot bar. We have been working hard to re-think our entire Café business model. What will it look like in the future? We are not entirely sure yet, but we will figure out how to bring our co-op favorites back to our member-owners and customers.
Staff and shopper safety is a top priority. Plexiglass dividers and plastic liners separate our checkout lanes. We have enhanced cleaning procedures to frequently wipe down high-touch areas throughout the store multiple times a day. Carts and baskets are sanitized between every use. The crowds we saw in February and March are now curbed by a line at the door to allow proper social distancing in the store. Rather than smiling faces around the store, we see “smiley-eyes” over top of our masks, and there are markers on the floor to help folks know where to stand when waiting to checkout.
We now have a contact-free curbside shopping and more opportunities to have groceries delivered. Our online sales increased by about 500% during the state-mandated stay-at-home order. At times, it was challenging to keep up with the demand, but we figured out how to make it all work.
We were extremely fortunate to stay open and maintain our staff 100% throughout the pandemic. We have been resilient, and I could not be prouder to report that we are still looking at strong sales growth for the fiscal year. Our staff has persevered through all of this to make sure we have a safe co-op to shop in. As an acknowledgment of the increased stress and risk associated with being an essential worker, we issued an additional $2.22 per hour worked, naming it “Appreciation-Hero Pay.” Thank you immensely to our member-owners and shoppers for your continued support through this.