By DIANA MCFARLAND
At first it was toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, then flour and yeast, and oddly, canning lids.
“Yes, canning lids,” laughed Lisa Vossler, co-owner of L&P Grocery in Boulder.
Now it’s soft drinks, said Vossler of the struggle to keep store shelves stocked as the pandemic soon approaches the one year mark. She’s heard it has something to do with the aluminum cans, so the pre-pandemic level of variety has been diminished.
Like toilet paper and other highly desired pandemic goods, the soft drink variety shortage is another matter of meeting demand, according to news reports last year.
L&P Grocery is also working to meet the demands of its customers during COVID-19, be it for a safe shopping experience, to having a variety of masks and cleaning supplies on hand, along with groceries, meat, produce and more.
The Boulder Monitor is highlighting those who have been on the front lines of the pandemic since it arrived in Montana, now nearly a year ago. In addition to grocery workers, they are bus drivers, librarians, school support staff, postal workers and more.
This week, the Monitor talks to those working at L&P Grocery in Boulder, about their work, the challenges brought on by the pandemic and what they miss most about life before COVID-19 became a daily threat.
L&P Clerk Shaelie Palmer, 28, returned to her hometown of Boulder last summer from Wyoming and took a job on the front lines at the store where she mostly works the cash register.
Palmer took the job when pandemic was several months old, but it didn’t factor into her decision. She had worked retail in Wyoming at a farm and ranch store — also considered an essential business when the pandemic began. As a result, Palmer has worked the front lines since COVID-19 arrived in the west.
The biggest challenge for Palmer is making sure she stays healthy, and so far, so good. Palmer said she did have cold and worried it was COVID, but it wasn’t.
Palmer believes the store is taking extra precautions, such as sanitizing all high-touch areas between customers. The staff wears masks, and there is a plexiglass barrier at the checkout counters. Customers are also asked to wear a mask, and Palmer notes that there are those who do, and those who don’t.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” said Palmer of masks, adding that she doesn’t push the issue and just hopes that customers return the courtesy by putting one on.
Being on the front lines does cause Palmer to wonder which customer may or may not have COVID, while still having to help those who may possibly be infected.
Both Vossler and Palmer bemoan the masks, and because they work all day with the public, must wear one all day too.
Palmer said has breaks during the day — which includes a break from the mask. And if no one is in the store, she may slip it down to get some fresh air.
Vossler said the masks cause her glasses to fog up when she comes out of the freezer, which is annoying.
Vossler said business has remained steady. When the pandemic first arrived in Montana last March, Vossler noticed that the local residents were doing much of their shopping closer to home. Also, the store saw more traffic from those who came off I-15 to check out the store for those once difficult to find items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. As supply has returned to normal, the store has lifted its one per customer rule, said Vossler.
People are good about limiting themselves and leaving enough for others, she said.
As the pandemic has continued, Vossler has noticed the locals have begun to branch out again in their shopping habits, but in the end, “everyone still needs their bread, eggs and milk.”
Vossler and Palmer are eager to ditch the masks and have things return to normal.
Palmer is still uncertain about getting a vaccine, but she is eager to return to group events such as concerts.
Vossler believes some good has come out of the pandemic — particularly a heightened sense of community.
“We’re all trying to do our part to keep each other safe,” she said.