It takes a shutdown for us to fully appreciate our local grocery store, and that goes double for Greenbelt’s own Co-op Grocery and Pharmacy – suddenly the most important business in the lives of so many Greenbelt residents, including yours truly.
So I checked in with the new general manager (as of April 13) Dan Gillotte by phone to find out how it’s going, which is edited here for readability. (Scroll below that for the historical timeline of the Co-op’s many adaptations to the pandemic.)
Q: How’s curbside pickup going?
Curb-side pick-up is still in the pilot stage, but going well, with 20-25 pickups per day, about 5 per hour. (Earlier slots fill quickly.) Customers are getting more comfortable with it, and becoming repeat
customers of the pickup program, with their orders getting bigger, too.
Implementing curbside pick-up is the first project I worked on here – it had already been in the works for several months but the process slowed down when the virus hit. Fortunately I’d had experience implementing Instacart delivery for a grocery store in Austin, and then curbside pickup, too.
Q: Where has the Co-op gone for guidance about precautions and procedures?
Like the different advice we see from levels of government, industry sources can differ, too. I keep up with what other food co-ops are doing, and the national grocery industry organizations and our distributor all have advice. Not all stores are the same, so there’s no one-size-fits-all and we have to find what works here.
Q Biggest challenges?
Because of our store size, the biggest is having too many people in the store. So in this week’s e-news we’re asking people to reconsider their routine pattern in the store – to circle back to Produce if it’s busy when you first get to the store, for example. We’re also encouraging people to give each other a break because this is tough on everyone.
For the staff, the hardest thing is working 8 hours with a mask on, which makes it so hard to communicate. It doesn’t just make it hard for people to understand what you’re saying; they also can’t see that you’re
smiling. I’m a pretty friendly person but I’m more tired at the end of the day because I’m trying to emote through my mask. Then for staff members who are engaged in hard physical work, just breathing with a
mask on is difficult.
Q How’s staff morale?
Around the time of my arrival, General Manager Bob Davis had raised pay for all staff by a dollar an hour. After being here for a few weeks, I raised pay another 2 dollars an hour – both temporary increases during
this special period. That helps. I try to be very positive in my interactions with staff and recognize people for their work.
Q What can you tell us about shortages
Things come and go. I was surprised that one week we were low on peanut butter but then it came right back. Often we can’t get a particular brand, but we have a wide enough selection that customers can generally switch brands temporarily.
We’re hearing a lot about meat but thankfully Victor, our meat guy, has been finding sources for things, and we haven’t had an issue yet. We know that some price increases are coming, but supply is going pretty well.
The primary effect on produce has been our distributor limiting the number of cases per week that we can receive, which has been a bummer, but we’re still able to get most everything we want. We had corn and
watermelon for Memorial Day, so that’s good! As a small independent business we can be flexible and find different suppliers for things. It can be harder for bigger grocery chains to pivot.
Q We notice changes in social media
Social media is super important in the current time (even before the virus) and we want to get good at using it to connect with members and shoppers. I’m trying to make it fun while sharing the food and staff we
have here, or celebrating holidays we don’t always recognize. Our Instagram and Facebook are getting revved up, and it’s all about food and community. The Co-op has never done promotions via social media, but we’ll be doing that soon. I’m also communicating weekly with customers via email, including safety advice like come with a list, try to send one person from the household.
Timeline of Changes at the Co-op
To document the effect of the 2020 pandemic on Greenbelt’s most essential business, we researched the Coop’s Facebook postings, email newsletters and articles in the Greenbelt News Review for this growing list.
Announced Hiring of New GM via March 16 press release and March 26 article in the Greenbelt News Review: “Co-op Board Hires Manager Following Nationwide Search,” to start April 13.
Over the past 21 years, Gillotte has been the general manager, then chief executive grocer, of Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin, Texas, one of the most competitive grocery markets in the country. Under Gillotte’s leadership, Wheatsville grew from a small single-store co-op with sales of under $4 million to a two-store co-op business with sales of $34 million, and he increased the diversity of the staff so that over one-third of the employees are Hispanic and African-American.
His wife Rosie and his 14-year-old daughter will be joining him this summer after their daughter’s school year finishes.”
Mid-March: Wipes were installed at both entrances; both wine tastings were cancelled and the salad bar closed.
March 24 e-news included this photo of Richard with gloves (see below) but per the CDC at that time, no mask yet. The email summarized employee practices:
Our employees are trained to follow a strict set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) when handling products. These include detailed instructions on hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, product considerations, and information on preventing food borne illness and the spread of infection.
“We have continued to take enhanced measures to clean and disinfect all departments, restrooms and other high-touch points of the store throughout the day, as well as a deep cleanse each morning.
March 25 began “special hours for seniors and other vulnerable shoppers who must leave home to obtain their groceries.” 7 am to 9 am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (This was covered on the Route One Fun blog.) Soup and coffee bars closed. Customers advised, per “health officials,” to hand-wash before and after shopping and practice 6-foot distancing.”
March 28 – senior pharmacy hours begin. “Pharmacy Manager Amanda Ferouz recommends that all patients call ahead for refills or use the Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) app to send in refill requests. The pharmacy will text or call when your prescription is ready, so you can avoid a wait.”
March 31, announcement of a “Health & Safety Update” – that “to protect the health of our cashiers, all groceries must be packed in Co-op’s single use plastic or paper bags. Any Bag From Home Cannot Be Used.”
April 2, the Greenbelt News Review story “Co-op Responds to COVID: Safety-first is Top Priority” summarized the Coop’s steps so far.
April 5: Announcement that “The Co-op Weekly sales circular you expected to find on the website and inserted in the Greenbelt News Review is being discontinued until our grocery suppliers are able to resume normal deliveries.We will have in-store sales posted throughout the Co-op.”
April 10: Announcement re: pickup and delivery. “We hear your requests for pickup and delivery service at the Co-op grocery store and pharmacy. We’re just beginning a management transition during these unprecedentedly complicated times, but (outgoing manager) Bob Davis and (incoming manager) Dan Gillotte are coordinating their efforts to implement a pickup/delivery system as soon as reasonably possible.
April 15: “Grocery stores in Prince George’s County will require everyone entering or working within the store to wear a face mask. The Co-op will be enforcing this requirement! We thank all of you who have been wearing face masks already.
April 16, a “Health & Safety Update: Starting today at the Co-op the main ramp entrance/exit will become the store entrance only. The Roosevelt Center entrance/exit will become the store exit only, until further notice. Thank you!”
April 17 “Reminder: In Prince George’s County everyone entering or working within a grocery store must wear a face mask over their mouth and nose. The Co-op is enforcing this requirement!”
April 24 the Coop held a retirement party! “Today we say farewell to our wonderful GM Bob Davis, retiring after 35 years! We will miss him and we wish him well.”
April 28, “Shopping here just got easier! Co-op GM Dan Gillotte announces launch of online ordering with curbside pickup. It’s a good idea to visit the Co-op’s website first to get details on our pilot program. Visit https://www.greenbelt.coop/cms/shop/online-ordering/.
April 30: Greenbelt News Review article announcing “The Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket and Pharmacy now offers online grocery ordering through Mercato, the online grocery ecommerce platform for independently owned grocery and specialty food stores. Co-op is planning to offer home delivery soon. Dan: “Anyone can order any time,any day for pickup on the following day,” says Gillotte. “Thanks to everyone for your patience as we’ve got most of the bugs worked out of this new offering.” To start, the Co-op is charging a 5% service fee and has a $30 minimum per order. “At the moment, Co-op is set to handle five pickup customers per hour during this early phase, with orders ready as the hour begins. More info. greenbelt.coop/cms/shop/onlineordering/.
April 30 Greenbelt News Review other story about the Coop: “The popular produce and dairy aisles are one way. Co-op requests one shopper per family and recommends planning a list based on store location to avoid backtracking…Managers monitor the number of shoppers in the store and during busy times institute a “one in, one out” policy at the entrance…Quantity limits apply to goods in short supply which have included baking flour, paper goods and cleaning products…Evolving guidance from health and government officials is a challenge for staff and customers. Gillotte reports staff fear catching coronavirus or making family or loved ones sick. “But staff are very positive and rolling with the changes it seems, even though it’s hard,” he says, “I’m already so proud of them.”
April 30: “Hey, Online Shoppers-When you arrive at the Co-op for curbside pickup, pull along the green barriers toward the front of the store and call the store at 301-474-0522. It is advised to pop the trunk or open a door and staff will bring out the order in a contactless way. Richard (seen here) is one of our “staff shoppers” filling your orders.
May 4, Facebook posting from Shobha Duncan (one of many positive reviews posted on social media: “I just did a curbside pickup. It was great! Lots of masks going in to the store. All different kinds and colors! The cutest was a mom and toddler who was waving at everyone and seemed to think he was so cool wearing his little black mask.”