Grocery stores adapting to keep employees safe

In the fifth week of countrywide business shutdowns intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, one sector has remained open and operational — grocery stores.

The stores have had to balance keeping customers and employees safe and healthy. In Verona, those include Miller and Sons Supermarket and Festival Foods.

“We appreciate everyone coming in, so we’re going to do the best we can for as long as we can, keeping shelves stocked and keeping a smile on our face,” said Andrea Miller of Miller and Sons.

Stockers and checkout clerks all wear gloves at Miller’s, and hand sanitizer and cart wipes are available for customers near the front doors. Some of the normal amenities such as the coffee grinder, water refill station and self-serve kombucha tap are kept off-limits by yellow caution tape.

Miller said customers have been treating workers with respect since the state ordered all nonessential businesses to close March 24, but kept grocery stores open.

“You see some negative stories on Facebook, but nothing like that is happening here. Ninety-five percent of people are respectful and many are just thankful we’re here,” she said. “People are definitely doing more shopping; the cart sizes are big.”

Spencer Schultz, a bartender and manager at Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, has been working at Miller’s for the past month, as Avanti’s is closed for the quarantine. He helps to sanitize the freezer and refrigerator doors and handles daily.

He worked for the supermarket in high school in the dairy department. Now he’s working alongside some of the same coworkers he did a decade ago. He also sees and interacts with regulars from Avanti’s, many of whom are surprised to see their favorite mixologist working at Miller’s.

“I still get to see them through this craziness,” he said.

While Miller and Sons has served Verona for over 60 years, Festival Foods has only just entered its sixth month.

Despite being the new store on the block, it has been faring well during the quarantine, all things considered, said assistant store director Nick Dziedzic. He said the ‘Click N Go’ shopping service has taken off, which allows customers to shop online and pick up their orders curbside.

“We see people who may not have seen another person for days on end,” he said. “Our message as leaders has been ‘keep things light’ for customers. Keeping it light has trickled down to associates. The big message is to take care of ourselves.”

A large sign from the Wisconsin Department of Health with tips to stop the spread of the virus greets customers at the store entrance.

Sneeze guards have been installed at all the checkout lanes and customer service desk. An employee sanitizes the self-check-out kiosks in between uses. The store also has employees dedicated to cleaning the store, with all “high touch points” being regularly sanitized and cleaned.

Dziedzic said overall, customers have been “fantastic” to employees during the past few weeks.

“Everyone is aware this is a difficult time for every person,” he said. “We hear ‘we love the people in your store, we love what you’re doing.’”

Like Miller and Sons, some of the self-serve areas of the store are off-limits, such as a grinder to make fresh peanut butter and the bulk food dispensers being kept empty.

“It’s a very fluid situation; we’re taking it in stride, taking it one day at a time, taking care of every guest one at a time,” Dziedzic said.

He said certain areas of the store got hit hard during the initial burst of panic shopping last month, and they saw “loads more” customers than they were used to, but since then, employees have gradually pieced the store back together.

“We have only been open six months, Dziedzic said. “Frankly, it’s been impressive we can hold it together at this point. People are really coming together; this is building our community and culture in store.”

Neal Patten, community reporter, can be contacted at