Transcript: When checkout lines become the front lines

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(Dramatic music and sounds of a shopping cart slamming)

Erin Simmons (picking up phone): Thank you for calling Central Market in Mill Creek, this is Erin. You know I think we are probably out of them, but let me get you to grocery just to be sure, OK, hang on one second.

Erin Simmons (to Crosscut reporter): Do we have Lysol wipes? The number one question.

(Sounds of cash register scanner beeps)


Erin Simmons: You can kind of feel it in the air. It's just a very different feeling. I get a lot of comments, "Oh my gosh it's ‘The Twilight Zone.’ " You know, everyone's just kind of in the same, like, zombie space, I think. Comin' through the store, tryin' not to touch people.


(Sounds of cash register scanner beeps)

Erin Simmons: Just the level of stress is palpable. You know, you can feel it when you walk in the store.


Erin Simmons: Our markets tend to be very carefree, kind of an escape for people. We have some customers that this is their only social engagement for the week, you know, some of our elderly customers.

Erin Simmons (to a customer): Is all in one OK for you?

Erin Simmons: We're doing everything we can to keep it as joyful as we can, but when people are scared, it's just a different level.

Erin Simmons: You have a lot more customers that are in and out. They don't want to chat.

Erin Simmons to customer: Bye, have a good day. Thank you so much. See you later.

Erin Simmons: As much as we're really, really lucky to have jobs right now, and we're really lucky to not have to worry about our mortgages, this is still really hard.

Erin Simmons: I think the biggest change is helping other people get used to change.

Erin Simmons talking into phone: Attention customers: We would like to take a moment for a friendly reminder. As you shop around the market, please be mindful to honor Governor Inslee's request for social distancing. Leaving a 6-foot space around yourself and others whenever possible. Thank you for your continued trust in us. We're so glad you're here.

Erin Simmons: We have two people dedicated outside all day long, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., sanitizing each and every cart. They get sprayed with sanitizer overnight.

Erin Simmons: Sanitizing the debit machines after every single transaction. Plexiglass went up, people started wearing gloves, now we're wearing masks.

Erin Simmons sitting inside her car: Oh. Guys, the moment at the end of the day when that mask comes off is my favorite. All you nurses and doctors and everyone out there, wearing these all day long, bless you.

Erin Simmons sitting inside her car: Ah. The day is over, it was a really good day. The sunshine being out is really helping people, I think. We all need the sun right now more than ever, and so, yeah, it was a good day. Get to go home to my boys now. So excited.

(Car engine starts)

Erin Simmons: So it's kind of a double-sided coin. You know, most of the time I feel extraordinarily grateful.

Erin Simmons: My husband also works for this company. We both don't have to worry about feeding our kids or our mortgage, and my in-laws are watching my kids and so I think I have the most fear for them.

Erin Simmons: I don't want to bring it to them and get them sick because they're in the high-risk zone, but they're our only option for child care. I'm so grateful for them. And just knowing that I could bring it home to my kids is scary, too. 

Erin Simmons: (Kisses son) I've changed clothes so everyone can love on Mom now. 

Erin Simmons: It's like when I get home I can't just instantly hug my kids and love all over my dog, right? Like I have to kind of decontaminate.

Erin Simmons: So I keep clothes in my laundry room, which is right by my garage. I change my clothes, I shove everything in the washer, wash my hands, wipe down my phone with a Lysol wipe and, you know, just try to get myself completely clean. Wipe off my glasses. And then I can go out and hug my kids.

Sons: Hey, guys, this is our store!

Erin Simmons: The boys made a store today. Now what do you have boys?

Erin Simmons: The main way we're figuring out kids is he works mornings and I work evenings most of the time now because that limits the amount of time that my in-laws have to be with the kids. And then I'm also able to do schoolwork with my kids in the morning, if needed.

Erin Simmons: I love to garden so I'm spending a lot of time in my yard. I just put up a hammock, so I hang out with my kids and my dog in my hammock. We like kind of mellow, unwindy type stuff. (Kisses dog)

(Scanner beeps as Erin Simmons scans the price tag of flower pot for customer)

Erin Simmons to customer: Here we go. Thank you.

Erin Simmons: I don't think people realize how emotionally taxing it can be to work with the public.

(Erin Simmons talking to customer)

Erin Simmons: We also are kind of like bartenders in a way, like people will like tell you all their stuff. And then you're kind of their emotional person in the moment.

Erin Simmons: But sometimes someone just needs to say how they actually are, and they might just start tearing up.

Erin Simmons to customer: You're finding a way, so that's good.

Customer to Erin Simmons: Finding a way. Yep.

Erin Simmons: Like for instance I had a lady whose mom is in a nursing home and she can't go visit her. And the fear for her was real and she started crying.

Erin Simmons: And again I can't touch her, like I normally would have gone around and hugged a customer in that situation. But, to be able to just be there for her in that moment when she needed to have a small breakdown, we could do that over and over all day long with 100 different people.

Erin Simmons: I care about how someone actually is. It's not just a line at the store. I actually really, really deeply care, and so then they'll sometimes share and there it is.

Erin Simmons: And after a while, especially I tend to be a little bit of an empath (laughs), so I feel it. It can get taxing.

Erin Simmons: But it's also such a pleasure to be able to help them through that moment.

00:05:40,733 --> 00:05:42,100
Central Market employee to customer: How's your day going?

Customer to Erin Simmons: Good, how ’bout you?

Erin Simmons: It hasn't always been obvious to people outside of grocery that we're essential, but I think we kind of know it. People have to eat, right?

Erin Simmons: So, even when restaurants shut down, the grocery stores have to stay open.

Erin Simmons: Seeing the customers and hearing them say thank you and just knowing that we're making an impact in their lives, because it can feel very thankless and it can feel very just, "Hi, how are you, paper or plastic?"

Erin Simmons: But people are just so grateful to us, and 99% of people are just incredibly kind and generous and thankful.

Erin Simmons: And so that fills my bucket, hearing that customers want to come here because they feel safe.

Erin Simmons: And they know that we're gonna take care of them. That's my favorite thing.

Erin Simmons to customer: Thank you so much. Have a really good day.

Customer to Erin Simmons: Thank you.

Erin Simmons: Take care of yourself.

Customer to Erin Simmons: Thanks, you too.

(Dramatic music)

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