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  • Writer's pictureJulianna Cavallaro

Life of a Retail Store Employee during the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the recent closure of all non-essential businesses, Quebecers are relying more than ever on the few stores that remain open. Select retail stores continue to operate in providing essential items to the population.

Front line retail workers have had to completely modify their routine to ensure their safety and that of their customers. How is this drastic change affecting our store workers and how are business owners reacting to the situation?

The West Island Blog's Dario De Felice spoke to Camilia Latraverse, a store employee at a large Canadian retail store, about the current situation for front line retail workers across the country.


Question 1 (WIB): How does it feel to be working in a public environment at a time like this?

Response 1 (Camilia): "It feels weird and stressful. It’s so different from a few months ago, even just two weeks ago. Everything is changing so drastically and fast. It’s stressful because the virus is all anyone can think about. You must protect yourself and others at the same time. When I’m at work, yes, I’m talking to my colleagues about different things, but it often goes to what we’re doing when we’re home and the virus is brought up. It always goes back to that and it’s in the back of our minds all the time.

It’s also stressful because we’re asking ourselves “what if…”. “Is this person contracting the virus? Is this person being careful not to contract anyone? Is this person being careful not to contract the virus?” These aren’t questions I was asking myself a few months ago when I was passing their items at the cash.

The store has been different also. There are not as many people coming in. It feels empty, and you can tell the customers feel stressed. It’s a different environment."

Question 2 (WIB): Do you feel that the security measures put in place by the store are sufficient enough to ensure protection for both employees and customers?

Response 2 (Camilia): "Yes, I do think so. Every store is different. Everyone has a different point of view and different opinions on what is essential and what is not. When the customers walk-in, there is a hand-sanitizing station. The customers are free to sanitize their hands, but it is not mandatory like at other places I’ve seen. As a cashier, I have my back to entrance, so we do not get to supervise if everyone is doing this. We’ve put into place a few different practices, example, we now have plexiglass that separates the customers and the employees. We also have stickers on the ground in the line area to separate the customers between themselves. We only accept cash money at 1 cash, which is the customer service cash. All the other cashes accept only debit/credit. We clean the carriages and baskets as we bring them back in. Since people can order online from our store, we now have a car-pickup service where an employee brings the order to the customers’ cars so they don’t need to come in. We’ve even put “barriers” in front of our cash so that the customers have no choice but to stay a little further to us. It happened in the beginning we had tape on the floor for them to stay further behind, but we kept having to remind the customers that there were lines on the floor. Since they were not following these orders, we had to come up with something different to implement the distance.

I do feel safe at work. Of course, I am always worried, but I do believe we are doing enough. Everyday is a new day and ever week we implement different things. It’s a bit of trial and error. We see what works and we give feedback to see how we can make things better for both the customers and the employees."

Question 3 (WIB): Are you provided with medical protective gear?

Response 3 (Camilia): "We are provided with gloves, hand sanitizer and the plastic that separates the customers from us. We also clean and disinfect the cashes, the counters, the computer screens, and the pin-pads. Anything that can carry the virus."

Question 4 (WIB): Do all customers respect the aspects of the system such as standing 2 meters apart from workers? Have you had to remind anyone?

Response 4 (Camilia): "Like I mentioned before, we did have to remind people before, but now I think people are getting the hang of it. We are not used to these rules and since we don’t go out often anymore, we forget. I think we are going to continue practicing some of these things even after the pandemic is over."

Question 5 (WIB): Have you noticed a change in customer volume since the outbreak? Are people restricting purchases to essential items?

Response 5 (Camilia): "I have definitely seen a change in the volume of customers. We have less customers than before. We have a lot more online orders as well. As for what items people are purchasing, I see a bit of everything. Since people have free time now, I see people buying things to do home renovations. I see people buying indoor activities, like games. I see a lot of bikes being sold and cleaning products of course. I’ve also seen people calming down with the toilet paper."

Question 6 (WIB): The Quebec Government has implemented directives to close all stores on Sundays to give employees a chance to rest, do you feel this will be helpful?

Response 6 (Camilia): "I think it has its pros and cons. A pro is that it’s giving a break to the employees and we have time to fill up the shelves. A con is that it gives people even less time to shop for what they need. That means there could be the same number of customers, but in less amount of time. It might make the store more crowded. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. "

Question 7 (WIB): Have you considered quitting your job because of the current COVID-19 situation we are living through in Quebec?

Response 7 (Camilia): "Quitting actually did not cross my mind. I’m glad I can be there to help. I have some colleagues that have weaker immune systems or have respiratory problems that have stopped working, so I’m glad I could be there while they are at home resting and staying safe. I know I am healthy, and my family is healthy. If I do end up getting infected, my family and I will be able to get through it, but for my colleagues with Lupus, it will be harder for them to get through this. Also, if I am out there, I can control it to the best of my ability. I am a bit of a germaphobe, so I’ve been sanitizing my hands constantly since I started working there; I did not start because of the virus. Since I know I disinfect my hands and my work area constantly, I can control infecting myself and prevent others from getting infected from my work space."

The West Island Blog would like to thank all front line employees continuing to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay Healthy and Stay Home if you can!

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