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Shop'n Kart hikes wages $2 per hour

By John Darling

for the Tidings

During this COVID-19 crisis, the hub of commerce — if not survival itself — has become the food market.

And at Shop’n Kart in Ashland, personal space has been increased, no layoffs happened, new loads of toilet paper are frequent, deliveries have been outsourced to people who lost jobs — and all workers just got a $2 per hour hazardous duty pay hike.

It’s a positive show of strength, resilience and caring for the community, one that increases brand loyalty and, says General Manager Eric Chaddock, “It is hazardous work, so they got a raise in the third week of this crisis and were “very happy to get it. They sure deserve it.”

In the formerly congested entry area, employees removed the many displays and reduced dual checkout lanes from eight to four, so customers and mask-wearing cash register workers can keep more distant. They’re also putting up sneeze guards at check-out stations.

The market is inundated with calls, many wanting to order take-out groceries or set up deliveries, so this time-consuming project is being handed over this week to a newly hired team of people who just got laid off from the tourist trade.

They now work in a separate small building near the street, says Chaddock. They take a grocery list and card payment over the phone or internet, add a delivery fee, then do the shopping inside the market.

The delivery group already has vans and liability insurance, as well as credit card sliders on their phones.

COVID-19 has changed food marketing. The walk-in customer count went up fast but has gone down in the past week, Chaddock notes, probably because vigorous hoarders have got all the stuff they can store at home.

“It’s back to almost normal now, though the (individual) transaction size is still larger than normal. It sure was horrible for a while. We’d bring in pallets of toilet paper and they would be gone every day. We had to limit to two packs per customer.”

Chaddock finds he orders more from more various suppliers because “they will show up four or five days late or bring us as little as 25 percent of what we order.” Suppliers are short because of hoarders, he adds, and because of the expense of hazard pay or people missing work because they’re sheltering at home. So, he says, there are not enough produce pickers or food packers.

“There’s not enough pickers to fill orders. They’re demanding signing bonuses. Everyone is doing hazardous duty pay,” he says. “Manufacturers are starting to pull their deals because they can’t fill orders. I’m seeing some price gouging from manufacturers and it has to be passed on, so when I go up on price, some people think I’m gouging.”

Chaddock would like to say hoarding will level off. “But we’re just at the beginning of this, and what’s it going to be like as the virus hits 40 percent of the population? Who knows? In business, all we can do is make decisions every day and regroup. What happens if half my crew comes down with it? We’ll have to close.”

The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue, with regard to food, is, “Will we be OK locally?”

Craddock replies, “Yes, absolutely. It’s going to be OK. We’ll always get the staples, just not the wide selection, as before. We’re going to be OK because I do acquisition through lots of suppliers. If one runs out, you buy from another. You order from many and hope you get some.”

By the way, the toilet paper mania is something Craddock can’t figure out. The market was here for the Y2K hysteria 20 years ago, and there was lots of hoarding of rice and beans leading up to the first day of the new millennium — “but no one hoarded toilet paper,” he says. “We’re just a strange species, is all.”

Shop’n Kart is on Ashland Street next to Bi-Mart. It’s open 7 a.m. to midnight daily and has a large amount of organic food. Call 541-488-1679.

Jamie Lusch / Ashland Tidings An Employee at Ashland's Shop'n Kart wears a mask while helping costumers on Monday.