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Community Safety

Mountain Grove Grocery Clerk Describes Pandemic As A 'Roller Coaster'

Cyrus Baty

We know that workers in the healthcare industry are truly on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. (And you’ll hear from a hospital worker this afternoon at 4:44pm.) But there are many professions that require daily contact with the public, whether or not we’re in a pandemic. People who work in retail, for example, such as grocery store workers.  This morning you’ll hear from Cyrus Baty, who describes himself simply as a “clerk” at Meadowbrook Natural Foods on 2nd Street in Mountain Grove, Missouri, a store that supplies health food, supplements, minerals, and bulk groceries. I talked to Cyrus by phone at the store. We started by talking about how much contact he has with the public.                                                                                

“Quite a bit,” he replied. “The store is never, like, really crowded, but I have one on one interactions with people all day long, pretty consistently and steadily throughout the day. We do have a Plexiglas barrier up at the front at the cash register. But I'm up and around people a lot of the day anyway, outside of the register.

“We have a lot of bulk groceries,” he continued. “So I help people locate what they want. I bag things up for them. We do work with a lot of supplements and minerals and things. So I just help people find things, talk to them about the product, help them choose. And then I go to the register and ring them up.”

Cyrus started working for Meadowbrook Natural Foods in June of 2020, as the pandemic was in full swing. But I know for my fellow employees that the first part of the pandemic was harder. There was a lot of uncertainty.”  Like many businesses, Meadowbrook closed their store to the public for a few months, offering only curbside delivery. Customers would drive up outside the store, call them to let them know they had arrived, and a store employee would bring the items out to the customer, “(doing) the transactions there on the sidewalk. Now we’re back to being fully open,” Cyrus Baty said. “But we do try and maintain the six-foot social distancing.  So I just think it requires a bit more mindfulness.”  The store reopened to the public in June, around the same time Cyrus started working there.

There have been challenges since then, he said. “There’s been a lot of disruptions in the supply chain, there's been things like zinc, we can't keep it hardly in stock, things like that. There's a lot more personal requests for things. It's requiring a lot more communication because people are constantly checking and seeing if things are here, if we're out of stock or if other places are out of stock. People are floating around looking for things that they can't get elsewhere.”

Not surprisingly, both store workers and their customers have experienced a range of emotions. “Frustration is definitely a common theme around,” Baty said with a chuckle. “But I think just realizing that it's hard for everybody, no matter who you are, where you are in this, it's just seems like it's been a difficult thing for most people. And you can read that from some customers. You know, you’ve got some who are struggling—and this is a small town. And so, you know people who have been exposed to COVID directly, some who've had it, some who it didn't go well at all. You know, it's a roller coaster.”

While some customers are casual in their attitude toward the pandemic, many are not, said Cyrus Baty. “In the generalized sense, there are definitely people who come in who, you know, especially earlier on, are very afraid. There are people who really prioritize coming to the store when they know that no one else is here. There are still some people who will call and ask us to do the transaction outside. It’s very real. It's just being aware of that, because not everyone treats it with the same level of--I don't want to say ‘seriousness’—or, you know, intensity, I guess. And so just being really aware of that and mindful of that, and looking out for the people who are really concerned.”

Cyrus Baty talked about his own sense of personal risk when it comes to interacting with the public. “It does put me at a higher risk, just by being around people in close proximity on a regular basis, and at a spot where people go to get medicines and remedies. So, yeah, it does put me at risk a little bit. For myself, I don't feel as worried—a bit more so for my parents. And I know that one of my coworkers, she has a family member who works at a retirement home. And so they're very conscientious about limiting their contact and, you know, making sure that they're not spreading the virus.”

Have Cyrus’s own family members expressed any concerns about his job putting him in contact with strangers during a pandemic? “They seem to understand. I mean, you know, they're concerned, but,” he said with a laugh, “I don't have an option! It seems to be very hard on everybody, you know, and that we really are all in this together, and it's going to be wonderful whenever it's done. I'll say that!”