Charles Forest Co-op nominated for ‘Shine On’ campaign

The Charles Forest Co-op in Arichat was recently nominated for Advocate Media’s “Shine On” campaign recognizing local businesses which have gone above and beyond for customers and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ARICHAT: A presence in the community for decades has been lauded for going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the “Shine On” campaign undertaken by Advocate Media, the parent company of The Reporter, the Charles Forest Co-op was nominated by Arichat resident Myra Hyland-Samson.

“They have been extremely innovative and open to suggestions, implementing practices like an early morning shopping hour for seniors, one way aisles with arrows on the floors, and the ability to phone or e-mail in your order and pick it up at the porch,” Hyland-Samson said. “They undertook these measures extremely early in the pandemic and provided a welcome relief that it would still be possible to safely shop for groceries on Isle Madame.

“Whether answering the phone, calling with substitutions or for payments, dealing with Facebook inquirie,s or wheeling out a cart for grocery pick up, the staff have displayed exemplary customer service. They have shown only kindness, grace, cheerfulness, and helpfulness during this difficult time, and they truly deserve recognition for being such an amazing presence on this island. I’m very grateful that our Co-op is here, and that I am a member.”

As a franchise of Sobeys, Charles Forest Co-op manager Gerard Samson said starting in mid-March, they followed the company’s direction.

“We started the protocols that came down from Sobeys and had meetings with our staff,” Samson recalled. “We tried to prepare and get ready for everything that was coming down the line.”

One of the biggest challenges was in keeping high traffic areas as clean as possible, Samson said.

“For us, the social distancing was a big part of it,” Samson noted. “We had to get someone in our receiving area with all our carts to disinfect everything, our carts, the bathrooms, and anything that was touchable by our members, by our staff, every day.”

Another problem was in reducing the number of people who can shop at the same time, he said, which was decided according to the store’s square footage.

“We had to hire somebody to limit the amount of people coming into the store at our front door and making sure the distancing was being observed in the line-up outside,” Samson explained. “The welfare of our staff and our members are the utmost importance to us, unfortunately it’s the way we need to go.”

For better flow within the store, Samson said arrows were put in aisles to keep customers moving in the same direction. In addition to taking grocery orders over the phone, the Co-op is now filling orders after hours. Also, barriers have been put up around each cash register.

He said it has been a challenge maintaining six feet of distance at all times, and prohibiting small crowds of people wanting to socialize after weeks of isolation.

Samson said the staff has had to endure a lot of changes in a very short period of time.

“It was a little more than a learning curve,” Samson noted. “I think our front-end people were the ones that got impacted the most; the ones on cash. They get the brunt of all the traffic that goes through the store.

“We never lost any staff, our staff has been unbelievable.”

Not just employees, but the members and customers of Charles Forest Co-op have had to put up with a lot too, Samson said.

“We always get a lot of positive feedback from a lot of our members and shoppers. It’s been excellent,” the manager said. “They’ve been really good with this, with all the positive comments.”

Samson said he doesn’t blame people for losing patience but he added it’s important to maintain rules to keep people safe and healthy.

“We think it’s important to keep going on the road we’ve going with,” he said. “Keeping everybody safe is our major concern. I think the bulk of our membership has been excellent.”