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‘I can't even imagine how we survived’: Vancouver grocery store worker reflects on a year of the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic really hit for him in 2020 when panic buying left shelves bare
Shelves wiped clean in the early months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was one of the biggest challenges faced by frontline sales workers in Vancouver.

From dealing with anti-maskers to experiencing increased levels of shoplifting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, frontline sales workers have been through a lot. Vancouver Is Awesome caught up with a manager of a downtown grocery store to hear how the last year of the pandemic has been for them.

Moris Espiritu, store manager at an IGA location on West Broadway, spoke of the past year with a tired tone to his voice. A tiredness Espiritu couldn’t exactly describe but a feeling other frontline workers can surely relate to.

“I can't even explain it,” Espiritu said. “It is exhausting."

'I can't even imagine how we survived'

"When I look back a year before I can't even imagine how we survived in the grocery store," Espiritu said, adding that in terms of stock, things are better than they were then. He says the virus created delays in shipments coming from overseas which made it especially difficult to keep shelves stocked.

Even harder though, and the moment the pandemic really hit for Espiritu, was when the shelves of the store were wiped clean by customers scared for the future. 

"The time when everyone was panic buying with the toilet paper. I think that's what kind of made me wonder ‘what's happening?’" he said.

Since then, the pandemic brought other challenges like ever-changing restrictions and health guidelines to adhere to. In dealing with so many people during the pandemic, Espiritu says the overarching emotion he has seen is stress.

"You can really feel the environment that everybody's stressed out, not just the customers but the staff. It's just the way it is," he said.

On a brighter note though, Espiritu says his team has weathered the virus' storm with grace.

"The staff have been amazing," he said. "You get to find out who your strongest people are, to be honest."

'At the end of my rope'

Espiritu says his staff’s biggest strength is how they care about the store and the community, even for those who make their jobs more difficult.

"The biggest thing is to be understanding to whoever you're dealing with,” Espiritu said. “You get to learn different types of people, you actually get to see who are selfish and who cares about others, just all in one."

He adds he's learned to be patient with everybody and treat everybody with respect no matter who they are.

"If they're anti-maskers... I can't really stand it any longer but we just respect everybody," he said.

To the anti-masker point, Espiritu says he is "at the end of [his] rope" with the conspiracy theorists flaunting public health orders in his store but in the end, there isn’t much he can do.

"If you want to deal with them and argue, at the end of the day they're not gonna follow the protocol and obviously we don't have enough authority to control their life so the only thing we can do is just remind them to stay six feet apart from everybody else and just move on," he said.

Espiritu is confident that once restrictions are gradually lifted life will return to normal and sales for the store will pick back up again.