“It was just exhausting the first couple of weeks just to try to get groceries onto the shelf,” said Cheri Endres, Wadena Super One assistant manager. She has worked at the store for over 20 years, from stocking shelves to cashiering, while also farming in the evening.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, Endres said employees worked “really hard,” with long days, as they tried to order items they could not get. She said those days wore on the staff.
The experiences come as “unfamiliar,” Store Manager Jim Walz said. He has worked in the grocery business for 32 years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. You know, through the holidays we would have that rush, where we were expecting that rush, and you’d have your traditional things that people would buy for the holidays, but when the pandemic first hit and when they said there was going to be no school, it was just mind boggling the things that people bought,” Endres said.
People were looking for staples like rice, flour and pasta, which are still hard to keep stocked in the store, according to Endres.
“People weren’t ready for kids to be at home, so they had to prepare themselves not only to teach kids at home but there wasn’t going to be school lunches … People just stocked up on food,” she said. “No one knew what to expect.”
The “slow process” of having items return to the Super Value warehouse has meant soup or rice may or may not arrive, Endres said. When items are out, employees again begin the search for an alternative.
“If we’re out of something, they (customers) are very understanding about it, but it’s beyond our control that it’s empty on the shelf,” she said.
One of the challenges has been communicating the evolving health and safety guidelines to customers, according to Walz. In April or May, the store implemented one-way traffic and offered shopping tips. Employees also started cleaning the register area and belts, carts, doors and handles, ATM machine, and their hands more often, according to Endres and Walz. Walz hopes to “go from success to success” as they are learning what works.
“When we first started doing this, it was like, ‘Woah, all of these are going to be difficult,' and it was easy to say, ‘How are we going to manage this?’” Walz said. “They’ve (employees) stepped up, and they did their job and did more than their job most days. It was a breath of fresh air.”
Before having customers wear face coverings in the store as of July 17, employees were required to wear face masks. Endres said her family encouraged her to wear a mask before Super One required it of employees.
“We can all do that little … part just so kids can go back to school in the fall,” Endres said.
While there has been change after change in the store, Endres said she is “fortunate.”
“Well, really I went to work every day. We worked a lot harder, we went through a lot more things, but it didn’t change my life as drastic as someone who isn’t working and still has to pay the bills,” Endres said.
As customers have shown increased appreciation -- from comments like "thank you for working" to donating lunches -- Endres and Walz feel the community and store have a “We’re in this together” mindset.
“In a time like this you really grow to appreciate being kind of separated from that (bigger cities) and how together we are as a community, and it really makes you appreciate living in a small town, and there’s a real value there,” Walz said. “It’s a pretty wonderful feeling, really.”