Danielle Vogel, founder and owner of Glen’s Garden Market in Washington, D.C., has a family history in the grocery business that goes back four generations. Before launching Glen’s Garden Market, though, Vogel worked on Capitol Hill as an environmental litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a policy adviser. When she opened Glen’s Garden Market in 2013, Vogel sought to have the store serve as a community hub—a go-to for locally sourced, sustainability-focused products in D.C.’s vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood. That “hub” concept has taken a back seat temporarily during the pandemic not only because of local COVID-19 mitigation measures but also because Vogel has made deliberate choices about the kind of experience she wants to ensure for customers and employees.
“We worked really hard to make it a very safe place to shop, including enforcing a 15-person capacity limit,” Vogel says. “We’ve got a 10,000-square-foot store; that’s far beyond what is required by law. I’ve got my team on a split schedule, and we have [been] since March. We are going to continue to operate this way until it is safe to change course, and that is probably another nine, 10 months from now.”
Vogel’s highest-margin areas of the business prior to the pandemic included a beer bar, a busy deli and a patio. She could legally reopen the patio and expand the limited-hours deli business, but she has chosen not to, for the sake of grocery shoppers and for employees who might otherwise be in contact with unmasked patrons dining on-site. “I made a judgment on behalf of the community that it was more important that they have a safe place to shop for groceries,” she says. “I didn’t want people needing to sort of navigate through a plume of exhalants on their way into their grocery store.”
Taking care of staff during the pandemic has meant maintaining $17-an-hour base pay and subsidized healthcare for all employees. In addition, “I feed them every single day a free meal,” Vogel says. “And I’ve doubled the employee discount to 40% so that everyone can have ready access to safe and healthy food when it’s hard to come by elsewhere.”
It’s expensive to run a business this way, Vogel readily acknowledges—but she says she’s glad to do it because it’s the right thing to do. She’s eagerly anticipating Glen’s Garden Market staff getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations in February as one step toward a return to normal operations. “Never ever did we think that our job working in a grocery store was going to save our life, but here we are,” she says.