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Pandemic requires new ways to sell and shop


Special promotional content provided by Willy Street Co-op.

The pandemic has, not surprisingly, required retailers to make some major changes. Not everyone wants to venture into stores, or they might not even be able to due to their own or household members’ health concerns. For those who do shop in stores, the precautions a store takes — whether or not the store feels crowded, the time required to shop, how employees and other customers behave, whether there are plexiglass screens at counters and registers, and other factors — may determine how frequently a store is patronized by someone who shopped there before the pandemic started. Retailers have not only had to change how they operate, they have also changed how they offer products.

Like other grocery stores that offer the service, Willy Street Co-op has seen a huge increase in its number of e-commerce orders since the pandemic began. What had been about 30 orders per week at the beginning of the year grew to hundreds. A plan to offer curbside pick-up of grocery orders at any of our three stores became something we had to figure out immediately. We continue to work on adding delivery and pick-up slots. You can see our selection (and place an order, if there is an available slot) at shop.willystreet.coop. The site is not currently supported on mobile devices, but we are working on that as well. Like with our stores, online ordering is available to everyone; you don’t have to be a member to shop!

This spring, some of the local produce farmers who supply our stores told us they were concerned about a lack of places to sell what they’d grown. Fewer farmers markets were operating than normal, and those that were saw fewer customers than normal. Restaurants expected to need much smaller amounts of vegetables than they usually would. Many schools had ended in-person learning, so no vegetables were needed for snacks. Conversely, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares were extremely popular and many Madison-area farms sold out. With the blessing of our local farmers and of FairShare CSA Coalition, we offered Local Veggie Box subscriptions (and non-local Organic Fruit Box subscriptions) for pick-up at our stores. Customers appreciated that we offered a new way to get fresh produce without having to come into the store, while helping to support local farmers and keep money circulating in our community. We have continued to use the Box format since then, most recently offering Gift Boxes. (We are accepting Gift Box orders through 8pm on Tuesday, December 8th! See willystreet.coop/boxes for details.) Depending on level of interest, we may offer more Boxes over the winter.

At the beginning of November, we began offering prepared foods for same-day pick-up. Now you can order lunch or dinner (sandwiches with a side and beverage, heat & eat meals, salads – even beer or wine!) and then stop by a store to pick it up. You can order via the ChowNow app or by going to willystreet.coop/curbside.

Many people continue to shop in our stores, of course. Here are a few tips to make your shopping trip go faster and reduce risk: 

  1. Make a list. It’s always irritating to get home and realize you forgot to get something. During the pandemic, you may be less likely to go back out and pick it up.
  2. Be ready to make a substitution if you need to. Many food makers have reduced the kinds of products they are making to ensure their top sellers are in supply. Retailers are still getting used to new shopping patterns, which can also vary depending on pandemic news. Add in winter weather and you can expect to occasionally see some gaps on the grocery store shelves.
  3. Socially distance yourself from employees and others when possible. Come back to a congested aisle, or ask if you can pass or reach for something. 
  4. Can’t find something? Ask an employee. It will reduce your time in the store!
  5. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer as you leave the store and wash your hands well when you get home. 

If you do stop into one of our stores in December, you’ll find plenty of Nifty Gifties – locally made, Fair Trade, or natural items that also make a positive impact in the world when you buy them.

They’re great gifts that you can feel great about giving. From Andes Gifts Fair Trade, hand-knit scarves, hats, and mittens to puzzles to Pacha Soap Co. froth bombs for your bath, we’ve got plenty to choose from. Check out the display at any of our stores.

Happy holidays to you and yours. Take care and be well!