For a few months last year, I worked at a small grocery store in my hometown. Although marketed as a normal grocery store, it was more of a specialty store. They sell fresh and higher-end ingredients at a high price. In general, it’s a pretty small store. We only had about 5 checkout lanes; generally 1-3 open at a time. The lanes that were open were almost never the handicapped accessible lanes and our store, and being that the store was fairly small, the lanes were tiny. Customers were constantly tripping over employees and other customers in the checkout line. 

In general, to begin, the store is pretty inaccessible for those who are physically disabled. Not only was the only handicapped accessible checkout lane often closed, but the motorized carts/scooters were often out of order and we only had one or two at a time. I often worked night shifts where I’d have to mop and sweep before closing. It was hard for me to maneuver around the aisles with a broom because they were so narrow. The aisles had to have been no wider than my wingspan. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if someone were using a cane, cart, or a wheelchair to get around the store. The building itself is quite large, but the actual store is so small. I think it’s so easy for the aisle space to be expanded. The areas that are used for backroom storage, break rooms, offices, etc. are largely unused or empty, meaning the store could eat into that space without disturbing storage space. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to have more staff at the lanes. There were always cashiers on duty, but they were always restocking or picking up loose ends that the grocery staff and managers didn’t want to do, leaving only a couple of us at the lanes at a time. 

Alongside narrow aisles, there’s stuff everywhere. In between the aisles, there’s a bulk section that is even more filled to the brim. This is something that I find would likely be problematic during a global pandemic. There is an antipasto bar, a candy section, a nut/mix section, and a self-serve coffee section. 

Both the coffee section and candy aisle relatively high up (around rib to chest level for me, a 5’9 person), making the top row difficult for anyone shorter or in a wheelchair to reach. The first row of candies are low down though, so we had a pretty big problem with kids walking by and sticking their hands in for a “free sample” every day. This makes it nearly impossible to track who’s touched what, which could be fatal during a global pandemic. To be quite honest, I was never quite sure why there was ever a bulk section to begin with, as everything that was offered in the bins of candies, nuts, and antipasto was in prepackaged bags/containers too. I think to easily cut out the issue of contamination, only have the prepackaged bags out in varying weights. 

Overall, these fixes, in my opinion, are pretty easy to do. By expanding aisle and lane space, have people sticking to their jobs, and getting rid of bulk aisles until the pandemic ends, you are able to expand your customer base to people who are physically disabled or immunocompromised and don’t feel as comfortable going out in a pandemic. Right now, there’s this complexity in our culture. It’s the norm to wear masks and to try to protect the people around you, but there’s no general consensus on how to do it correctly. It seems to me that everything you can do regarding a pandemic potentially challenges cultural norms and values. We value keeping people safe, but we also value convenience. We want to be able to pick what we want and how much of what we want (like the bulk bars). We value inclusion, but we also value, again, convenience. We don’t always want to do our jobs or tear down walls to expand aisle space, so we leave out certain groups of people. It’s this sad balance of not knowing whether to put our desires before others’.