Grocery store employees adjust to a changed reality

Residents have rushed to stores during the COVID-19 pandemic


Richard Schemmel calmly stocked apples at the King Soopers at 7984 W. Alameda Ave. in Lakewood on March 20. Schemmel, produce manager for the store, smiled — and from the look on his face, you wouldn't know he had already worked 60 hours during the week of March 16.

“The last two weeks have been pretty hectic. We're selling a lot of product, and a lot of people are scared that we're running out of food — but we're not,” said Schemmel. “Our trucks are running a little late, so there are times when we might be out of a product. But once that truck gets here, we are good.”

Schemmel and other grocery store employees throughout the state have had to adapt to more work and an increased demand for products amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And unlike workers in many other jobs, they have not had the luxury of working from home.

Many grocery stores, like King Soopers, have adjusted their hours.

King Soopers shortened its daily hours of operation to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to clean and restock stores as well as to keep its employees healthy. Walmart also reduced its hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in order to sanitize, clean and restock shelves in its stores while Safeway gave similar reasons for changing its hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Target is now open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Multiple grocery stores also are reserving certain hours to allow seniors, a vulnerable population to COVID-19, to gain early access to stores. For example, King Soopers is open to only seniors from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Many stores also are adapting to the high demand for groceries by allowing residents to only purchase a certain amount of meats, toilet paper and other items.

Caitlyn Grathwohl, who has worked at the King Soopers at 750 N. Ridge Road in Castle Rock as a bakery manager for the past year and a half, said overtime hours have risen for many of the store's employees.

“It is almost like Thanksgiving, but none of us are prepared for it. During Thanksgiving, you know you have a projected forecast for sales,” said Grathwohl. “There is not an idea how long this will last."

"Now, we kind of know people want canned food, people want bread, but before, everything was getting wiped out.”

Richard Wobbekind, a senior economist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said there is nothing that indicates the food supply chain is in any danger.

“Food production is in very good shape. I'm frankly much more worried about the people who don't have access to technology and the people who are getting laid off more so than the fact there's not going to be enough toilet paper on the shelf,” said Wobbekind.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Schemmel has one message to the community: Grocery store employees are doing the best they can.

“We have a really good team, and my employees are offering to stay late and work long hours," Schemmel said. "As long as we keep a happy, positive environment, it has been working out really well."


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