Compare Foods is the kind of supermarket that knows its customers inside out and thrives away from the wealthier parts of our city. It’s part of a local, family-owned company. As I pick up my cart, the security guard gives me a warm welcome. He’s busy counting the customers who come and go, making sure that there aren’t more people inside than allowed under our new COVID restrictions. Somehow, at the same time he makes every customer feel right at home in Spanish or English, and can size people up so well that a glance tells him which language they would prefer. In the small spaces between customers and counting, he manages to tell me that his name is Allan, he likes working here, and his favorite time to work is during the senior shopping hours. I have no doubt that the seniors adore him.
Nearly every aisle is fully stocked — by employees who care enough to place items in tidy rows, no matter how stressful things have gotten. There’s more variety than you’ll see in a run-of-the-mill store. The hot sauce shelves boast dozens of selections. There’s Jamaican Pickapeppa Sauce, Valentina Salsa Picante, and direct from my hometown of Winston-Salem — Texas Pete. (Many apologies to those of you who thought it was made in Texas.)
I’m here to meet Joshua Fernandez, the Marketing and Public Relations Manager. Everything about him is steady, conscientious, and sincere. He started his job 15 months ago, barely in time to settle in before the grocery business turned at a hummingbird‘s pace. Joshua says, “In the first two weeks, we experienced sales like we’ve never seen before. I’ve heard some employees say it’s like Christmas, except you could get sick and it doesn’t have an end date.”
When asked if Compare Foods’ employees are nervous about coming to work, Joshua says, “One thing we really pride ourselves in is being connected to our community of workers and customers. We have established channels for every employee to reach the owner, and we’ve taken what everyone has said into consideration. We also invested time studying how grocery stores in Italy and China responded.” Compare Foods took the pandemic seriously very early in the game. They implemented new practices such as senior shopping hours weeks ahead of many major retailers. They were one of the first retailers in our area to give employees masks and gloves. “We had a little bit of pushback about the masks, because some people thought we should save them for healthcare workers. The way we saw it, if our employees got sick and our supermarket had to close because of an outbreak, that would be more damaging to the community than a few masks not making it to the healthcare field.”
Joshua’s rock-solid sense of responsibility to community is his guide. In sharing what he’s learned in this situation, he says, “Now more than ever, it’s important to have a sense of community and duty to the community. We need to really put the community ahead of ourselves, ahead of our desires to be outside, ahead of our desire to celebrate special events. That’s the only way we can come out stronger from this — if everyone does their part. Our supermarket workers are definitely doing their part.”
Yes, they are, Joshua. They really are.
This story was written by Teresa K. Cain with photos by Sabrina Robinson