With one calendar quarter of 2021 now under retailers' belts, the United States reaching 200 million COVID-19 vaccination shots administered and pandemic-prompted restrictions being eased across the country, WGB wanted to check in with members of the Remarkable Independents Class of 2021 to see how the year is shaping up. What's different than it was at the end of 2020, and how well have expectations for the year aligned with reality?
We caught up recently with Glen's Garden Market founder and owner Danielle Vogel, whom we first talked to following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, as she was preparing to celebrate the store's Earth Day anniversary.
Christine LaFave Grace: How are things at Glen's Garden Market so far this year? Since we last talked three months ago, do things look different to you or for the store?
Danielle Vogel: It’s not substantially different yet. Our team has been vaccinated, and [April 22], on Earth Day, our nine-year anniversary, we’ll get together and celebrate our immunity by closing the store and having a little Glen’s family reunion. We’re going to do a little field day with tie-dye and capture the flag—it’s going to be awesome.
We always celebrate Earth Day in a big way, but we can’t be quite as big this year. But the bottom line is we're just not there yet. The bar is still closed; the deli is still on very limited operations; the grocery store is still going strong as it has been all year. But I think we all hoped that the ball would drop and everything would immediately improve, and it just didn’t. There’s still a long road ahead toward herd immunity—we’re moving in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.
That said, given some of the changes we've seen in the past few months with the respect to the vaccine rollout, as well as the political-climate concerns we discussed in January, do you have a sense of changed mood on the ground, in the store, whether among team members or customers?
Obviously, everyone [here] is very relieved with the change in [presidential] leadership for all of the reasons. Within my business, we specifically exist to make a climate change progress, so the fact that we have a president who respects climate science and an administration that’s poised to act on that understanding is the biggest deal to us. The hate-mongering and racism-stoking that was going on in the last administration took a toll on those of us who care about each other. It's a big relief to be heading in a different direction at last.
Glen's Garden Market was recognized as a Remarkable Independent in part for your efforts to go above and beyond in protecting the store's team amid the pandemic. What do you see when you look ahead?
Honestly, in terms of feeling a sense of relief at the end of the pandemic, I'm really trying to rein that in a little bit to the extent that—most of my employees are in their 20s; they're the "invincibles," and I need to remind them over and over again that this vaccine isn't an impermeable force field.
The same is true for the community. We serve a large elderly population, many of whom have received their shots, but again, the shots do not create an impermeable force field. So I'm still trying to stay the course of keeping in place all of our community protections until such time as they are no longer necessary, but that's not soon.
I'm asked every day whether we're going to reopen the bar, and the answer is just "absolutely not." We're still in an actual declared public-health emergency. I'm not going to rush this. We’ve been careful the whole way through, and it’s not time to stop being careful yet.
That was my next question—what are some of the most common questions you’re getting from customers?
One of them is, "When are you going to reopen the bar?" We have a bar in the front space of the grocery store, and what’s the first thing you do when you're handed a beer? You sip it. I just can't have it in the front of the grocery store. Period. End of discussion. So we’re not opening the bar until that's a safe thing to do. Secondly, we get some angry neighbors that want to fight us on the cashless policy. The mayor asked all grocery stores at the beginning of the pandemic to go cashless because there were concerns about surface contamination. That order is still in place. At such time as she believes it's safe to take cash, we will take cash. But until then we're not going to, and I'm not going to bend the rules just because other people find that to be more convenient.
We have honestly become a little bit more relaxed about some of the headcount rules inside the space, and that’s largely because the mayor has allowed us to invite in a capacity that's five or six times what we actually allow. So rather than rigorously adhering to the 15-person rule when there are 20 people in the 5,000-square-foot grocery store now, we don't have a heart attack about it. We just gave ourselves frankly the gift of not having to fight that fight every hour of every day.
Other than that, people generally understand the rules; they respect our protocols; they are grateful for them, which makes it easier. Fundamentally, the operations are unchanged from what they were in 2020, because fundamentally the circumstances are unchanged.
Have there been unexpected joys or standout moments you've witnessed with the team or in the store that made you think, "Wow, this is a really weird time, but this is why we are who we are"?
Yeah, and that's going to happen tomorrow. I'm bringing the team together for a little huddle; I'm going to give my annual Earth Day impact address, and then for the first time in a year, all of us are going to share a space. That space will be a field; it will still be safe. Glen's has always felt like a family, and we've been through the ringer this year, as has everyone else in the world. But tomorrow I'm going to get to raise a glass and toast my team for their resilience and perseverance, and then we're going to go to a field, and we're going to tie-dye T-shirts, and I'm going to look around and remember why we fought so hard. And it was to keep this team together.
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