organic garage toronto

How one Toronto grocery store chain is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic

It's not easy running a grocery store in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, from increased cleaning to amended hours, there's a lot of pressure and tough choices to ensure the safety and health of both staff and customers. 

Organic Garage, with four locations across the GTA, has had to implement new measures constantly to keep up with new mandates and best practices. 

"We go to bed at night and when we wake in the morning there's something new," said Randee Glassman, Organic Garage's Director of Marketing.

"People don't really understand that it's a 24/7 business and this is a 24/7 issue. Its been very stressful because we want to please everyone and do what's right."

When considering what new measure to put in place Glassman says that they're constantly thinking about the safety and mental health of their staff and customers. 

"Supposedly they are positive things that are being suggested or mandated but we can't just implement things overnight. It may not be to someone's liking but it's the best that we can do. If we fail [our staff and customers] there would be no stores," she said. 

Glassman adds that there's also the added pressure of making sure they can actually deliver on what they're offering. 

For example, as they work to launch curbside pick up there's a lot of logistical details that need to be thought out before it can go ahead, such as how they're going to ensure staff can handle it without straining other parts of the store operation or burning out themselves. 

But it's been hard to please everyone and the new measures have sometimes caused backlash, where customers have called the store insensitive.

"I understand where people are coming from but it's hurtful and upsetting. We have to think of so many different variables. Customer have to understand the trickle down effect and why we're making these decisions," she said, giving the example of when they changed the hours of the Oakville store.

"The transit shortened their hours and it impacted our staff that use the transit. So we immediately had to think about how to deal with that. So we had to change our hours to accommodate those employees," Glassman explained.  

And none of their decisions are made lightly. Glassman explained the trouble they had with implementing the senior-only shopping hour. 

"We woke up to a social media post and some influencer [had] called out all the grocery stores to suggest there be a senior hour. Right away we thought: 'That's a really weird idea, seniors aren't supposed to be encouraged to go [shopping] because they're the most vulnerable'. It seemed counterintuitive on so many levels," she explained. 

On top of that Organic Garage didn't want to put staff in the awkward position of policing who could and couldn't come in to shop. But despite initial trepidation they've since implemented the policy and now the first hour of the store opening is dedicated for seniors. 

Organic Garage has also added plexiglass dividers at their cash registers, installed floor markings for social distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures, among many other COVID-19 updates, to make sure they can still provide healthy foods at low prices to their customers. 

"Of course we want to flatten the curve and of course we understand the importance of grocery shopping, but we need to do it in a way that makes sense logistically and so we're not scrambling later, " said Glassman

"It's been very stressful but what warms my heart is the way people are helping," she added, noting their fundraiser where customers can donate to Feed Ontario and have raised over $5,000 in a week.

Lead photo by

Organic Garage


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