That time I… worked during a shutdown

A+cashier+stands+at+the+register.+During+the+pandemic%2C+grocery+stores+were+often+a+hectic+place.+

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A cashier stands at the register. During the pandemic, grocery stores were often a hectic place.

By Angelina Padilla-Tompkins, Columnist

March 13, 2020. It was my senior year of high school and rumors were circling the school about a complete shutdown possibly happening. Of course, everyone was excited at the possibility of no school, but we never imagined how serious it would get. 

2:54 p.m., the bell rang to dismiss everyone for the day. I rushed from the building to my car and drove to work at Lindy’s, the locally owned grocery store in town. I clocked in at about 3:30 p.m. and things were steady, so I switched my drawer over and got settled. As time went on the pace got quicker and quicker until we were, by pre-shutdown standards, busy. 

One of our regulars who worked at a nearby hospital came in and while I was scanning her items she told me the governor has issued a shutdown. 

Within minutes of her breaking the news, the store was packed, people shoulder to shoulder scrambling for meat, bread, eggs, milk and toilet paper. Checkout lines wrapped around the store and each person’s card was filled to the top with hundreds of dollars worth in groceries. 

I put on my best customer service voice, but internally I was panicking. I was fresh out of training, this was only my second or third day on my own at the register. I will say that was the quickest I’ve ever learned anything. 

For the most part, people were kind and understanding with the exception of the occasional Karen.

The owner of the store was in Florida at the time, but not to worry, it was still crazy busy when he got back. The first few weeks of the shutdown it was constantly busy, there didn’t seem to be an end in sight. It was all hands on deck and we still needed more people. We actually hired people off the streets.  Individuals would come into the store to ask if we were hiring and Jim, the owner, said, “yes we are. Can you start right now?” And they were sent to work bagging and carrying out groceries, or stocking the shelves with what little we had. 

By the time things began to calm down our shelves were barren, everyone wore masks, at the time gloves, and plastic shields were put up to separate our personal space. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before and redefined how I use the term, busy.