Shopping’s New Social Norm: Masking, Arrows, and Plexiglass

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Kyle Berringer, Contributing Writer

Walking into the grocery store with a bandana wrapped around your face used to be a quick way to get store security or the police called. But now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to be quite the opposite.

Over the past two years, grocery stores have been forced to constantly adjust their rules and regulations regarding health codes and customer safety. As these changes are rapidly being made, grocery stores are juggling the new government requirements, customer requests, and employee safety.

Karns Foods is one business that has been taking steps to ensure a safe and sanitary environment for customers and employees both. As policies change rapidly as more is known about COVID-19 virus transmission and vaccine efficacy, it is of the utmost importance to keep up-to-date with current grocery store etiquette.

Karns Foods New Bloomfield is located on Cold Storage Road, and since early in the pandemic, all customers and employees have been required to wear masks when in the building. As shoppers enter the store an employee will add you to the total number of customers in the store at that time. This is so the store does not reach its full occupancy, in an attempt to promote social distancing.

Within the store are one-way arrows directing the flow of customer traffic at the end of each aisle, as well as plexiglass shields at the cash registers in order to reduce as much contact as possible.

Along with these precautions, Karns also must close certain parts of the store – the most recent being half of the cash registers. Until recently, Karns and other grocery stores alike were required to only have two registers open at a time, excluding the self-checkout. The salad bar is closed, donuts are sold prepackaged and the store closes at 8 p.m. unlike its usual closing time of 10 p.m.

Bryan Henry, a shift manager at Karns Foods, says conditions have changed as policies changed.

“We are trying to implement social distancing, and we make adjustments as we receive new information.” Henry said.

These changes in protocol either come from the federal government, state government, or Karns corporate themselves. As Karns is one of the few businesses to have remained open during the pandemic, these policy changes are foreign and experimental, so grocery stores must also rely on the feedback from their customers and employees. For example, it is not mandatory at the moment for stores to have employees sanitize grocery carts after every use, but Karns did so per customer request.

These changes in policy not only affect everyone’s grocery shopping experience, but for some it affects their daily work routine. Kenyon Johnson is a grocery clerk at Karns and when asked about the changes in health code and general employee morale, he said it’s a balance.

“The masks suck, but I do understand and acknowledge their purpose,” Johnson said.

Few employees would particularly enjoy wearing a paper mask 8 hours a day, but Karns employees have been sacrificing their daily norm for the greater good of consumer health. Health care workers wear masks like a second set of skin, but this is a rare moment in history in which we expect the same from our grocery store workers.

Jenny Wagner, a regular Karns customer, shared her experience violating one of these new policies.

“The aisles have gotten so crowded – It was either wait there all day or go down the aisle the wrong way.” Wagner said.

Wagner went on about the nasty stares she received from other customers.

“It’s like the smallest thing now could form a mob.” Wagner said.

Wagner ssys she hopes it wouldn’t grow into moblike mentality, but did share the feeling of tension continued when doing her regular shopping.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic grocery stores have transformed from a community hub into a post apocalyptic food cache, and Karns Foods New Bloomfield is no exception. Just as the virus evolves, communities are evolving with it, creating a safe and sanitary environment to shop in. Despite the hectic and foriegn nature of the pandemic, Karns managers, employees and customers are keeping their masks on and their hopes high.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19, see cdc.gov. For information on Pennsylvania stats statewide and in your area, see  pa.health.gov