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“We are not alone, none of us are”


NEW WORLD ORDER Shopkeeper Rob Murphy behind the new perspex enclosure at the family's Centra in Ballinrobe.

On the Ground

Rob Murphy

I took a moment to contemplate the chaos on Monday morning when the tape measure dropped from head height to the floor in front of me. We were measuring and designing a new perspex enclosure for the tills in our grocery store, which is situated in Ballinrobe town centre. Just seven days previously, I had stood in the same spot, with the same tape measure discussing a new ice-cream counter layout.
I want to take you into the working environment of a small grocery store in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. More precisely I want to bring you into the mind of a store manager in such an environment, give you a little glimpse of at least some of the challenges we face during this almost incomprehensible crisis. I also want to give you a snapshot of what’s facing our community here in the coming weeks. To tell you what they are doing to stay ahead of this and to keep safe.
On site, all has changed and nothing has changed. We are laughing as much as ever, that’s the first thing. We’re all talking to each other, supporting each other and getting on with the many tasks required to run a store like this from the absolute essential basics of serving, stocking and cleaning to the small jobs behind the scenes that help keep the whole project in full swing.
Ours is a business sector where we strive never to have to contemplate closure. That’s just the reality of being an essential food provider. It’s a seven-day a week business in the good times and it’s no different come stormy weather. We’ve kept the doors open through challenges in the past and have tried to get customers everything they need in those moments but this is like all those days coming at once, with no clear end in sight.

Incredibly considered
People are worried on their store visits but they’re also incredibly considered. We’ve set the store up to provide clear guidance on distancing practices and they are being adhered to phenomenally well. Beyond that, their patience with us has been remarkable. Many of those people are out of work, on half weeks, or working from home. All are worried for their futures and anxious about the current environment.
If you are to take away one thing I’ve learned from all of this so far, let it be this. We are not alone, none of us are. Everyone of us have our own complex set of challenges in life and work but at some point those cross over with others in similar situations. The grocery store owners are realising that right now.
Our Centra store is part of the Musgraves trading group and they are there for us every step of the way, contemplating the problems that we are feeding back to them, aggregating the solutions that we come up with and making sure all good ideas are shared out to the various store owners.

Simple conversations
Last week, once we had ensured that the working and shopping environment was safe and set up for the new challenge, we took to the task of getting our message out. Connecting with each and every customer via social media or just simple conversations in store was going to be critical. We decided on two key factors, we need to make life easy for them and if possible introduce some fun via our Facebook videos with one or two competitions thrown in.
That’s the face of all this. Behind the scenes be in no doubt that it does get stressful, mistakes are not beyond us, moments of stress come and go. We’ve had to do more than one take of our Facebook videos. I had a minor meltdown over figuring out how to get a SIM card into a new phone – which was part of our ordering service – that involved far too many people for something that really should have been easier than changing a lightbulb.
The crowning glory of errors came on Sunday with a delivery order for Mothers’ Day that was meant to be a surprise, well, right up until the point where we accidentally called the mother’s number instead of the daughter to complete the transaction. It all led to much embarrassment on our side and in fairness, a lot of laughter on their side. That’s what happens when you introduce an entirely new element to your business with 24 hours notice. It’s not quite the new normal just yet but we’re getting there.

Rob Murphy manages the family Centra store in Cornmarket, Ballinrobe and is a regular contributor to The Mayo News