During the early days of the pandemic, footage of belligerent customers fighting over toilet paper at the grocery store triggered hoarding and fear. A few months later, grocery stores sometimes became battlegrounds for anti-mask standoffs with workers like Louis Donovan, director of Harmons in Roy, charged with diffusing emotions and keeping folks safe.
“There were times things got out of hand and I had to step in,” the South Ogden husband and father of two boys says. “It’s tough because ‘the customer is always right,’ but I’ve had to remind myself that, this time, we have to protect our associates.”
The silver lining, he says, has been seeing regular shoppers, who think of his store as “their” store, intervene and stand by workers trying to do their job.
“It’s actually been touching in that, besides a few cases, most people have been more understanding, accommodating and appreciative of what we do,” he says. “People generally rush in and out of the store to get their stuff, but we’ve noticed that, lately, people are looking around and talking more to those folks that are serving them.”
With non-essential businesses forced to close during the early days of the pandemic, grocery stores became a lifeline for customers, ensuring families remained fed and supplied while hunkering down and giving folks a moment to interact with other humans.
“I’m here to care for people,” says Donovan, who says he never really felt scared about contracting the virus even though he’s worked on the front lines every day. (“People have to eat,” he says matter-of-factly.) Although, he was very concerned that his employees felt comfortable while working under the strained conditions.
“Of course we installed the plexiglass and supplied masks, but we also got creative to make sure every worker felt safe.” Donovan shifted operations to a 24-hour schedule so employees at higher risk could perform their duties after hours.
But, it’s Donovan’s kind and generous spirit that truly puts folks at ease. “The best part of my job is talking to people and helping them feel taken care of. I honestly love it.” Evidence of his sincerity clutters the walls of his office in the form of cards and tokens from grateful customers. “They start to feel like family,” he says.
This story is part of our series on coronavirus heroes. Read all of them here.