The Big Sandy Grocery Store pandemic challenge


November 11, 2020

The pandemic in Montana is entering its ninth month and the Big Sandy Grocery Store has been serving our community throughout the whole ordeal. This time of unusual stress has brought with it challenges for the local business. "In the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming. We were fortunate to have really good help that muscled through it," explains Debra Louvar the proprietor. At the beginning of the pandemic, the store saw runs on supplies as locals stocked up for the coming lockdowns. The spike in demand pushed the small store's staff as they worked hard to keep the store stocked and handle the surge in traffic.

In the months that followed, Deb describes other challenges that arose. "We've had a lot of shortages. We still are experiencing shortages." Everyone is familiar with the initial runs on toilet paper, but as that frenzy has calmed, new shortfalls have emerged. "Not so much with the paper products, though we are still experiencing that. Some of the canned goods and simple things like tapioca that we can't get. Just about everything." Though she does point out that it is getting better. Deb explains the shortages: "What we've been told is, the manufacturers are focusing on the core products, the bigger sellers, until they can get all caught up. They've had a shortage of help, products, and shipping slowdowns. So it's been a combination of things."

Challenges for The Grocery Store are not limited to spikes in demand and difficulties restocking. The governor's mask mandates have presented a unique challenge. "We are probably experiencing about 30% of the customers who are coming in aren't wearing masks. We don't personally ask them to. We have the sign on the door, and we would ask that people be gracious enough to wear it." The Grocery Store hasn't enforced the mask requirement for customers at this point. "We appreciate if you do abide by the sign on the door, but I'm not gonna kick you out." Deb explained the challenge with the mask requirement, especially given the strong feelings many have about the requirement: "It really is a tightrope, because if you make somebody mad, they just won't come back and shop with you. We're a small store and we need every customer we can get. It's made it tough that way... It is tough because I don't want to alienate anybody. I can't afford to alienate anybody."

Throughout the entire pandemic, employees have been pretty positive. There was initially some concerns related to enforcing the mandate, which would be tough for locals. This has been more of an issue for larger communities where stores have been threatened with closure for noncompliance.

Deb did point out that the plexiglass screen at the register will likely be a permanent fixture for The Grocery Store, even when the masks are gone. She explained that during cold and flu season, employees usually pick up whatever illnesses are going around our little community, so the shield is an easy ongoing solution. Because The Grocery Store is the only option for many miles, locals often come through for medicine or soup while sick, and the employees are exposed. The shield will help with the recurring issue of illness.

One of the biggest concerns related to the pandemic is that one of the employees will catch Covid. Would it require that the entire staff be quarantined for two weeks after being exposed to a coworker with the virus? How would it affect the business? Deb pointed out that neither the store nor the employees could afford a two week shutdown. She went on to say: "I just put it in the back of my mind. If it happens, it happens. We'll deal with it."

Deb closed our time with a simple expression of gratitude to the community: "We appreciate everyone's business, and we're remaining positive."


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