PLAINFIELD — The Plainfield Co-op will reopen for in-store shopping Monday.
The member-owned grocery store, like many businesses, had to close its doors in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But Peter Youngbaer, the store’s general manager, said the store has stayed afloat by offering things like curbside pickup and an express window.
With the state continuing to open back up due to low numbers of new infections from the virus that causes COVID-19, he said the store was ready to open its doors to the public again.
But the store will have to abide by restrictions from the state. So only four customers are allowed inside the store at one time. All customers must also wear masks and can bring their own reusable bags, but must bag their own groceries.
The children’s area and community center remain closed.
In order to adjust to conducting business during a pandemic, Youngbaer said the store had to increase its online presence. Members are now able to see the store’s inventory on the co-op’s website and can send an email or call in their orders. He said the store had to add a couple phone lines to accommodate the increase in calls.
Youngbaer said the express window and curbside pickup have been popular so the store will continue to offer those services and see if they remain popular. He said some older members aren’t yet comfortable going out in public or being around other people due to the virus so they prefer curbside pickup.
While the store only closed down completely for one day, March 23, due to the pandemic, it’s taken a significant financial hit.
“Our business is off about 30%, but we knew we were going to be deemed essential as a grocery store. So we never thought we would close. We basically said, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But we’ve not hit our sales targets for several months. So that’s been hard,” he said.
Youngbaer said typically business at the co-op slows down in the winter and that gets made up in increased sales in the summer. That won’t be the case this year.
“Our summer traffic, historically, can get up to 30, 35, 40 transactions an hour. And with just four people in the store at the time, we know we’re not going to hit that,” he said.
He said while Vermont looks to be in good shape, other states are seeing increases in cases and he believes the virus will be around for a while. He wondered what would happen when the weather starts to get colder and if the virus comes back.
Youngbaer said a portion of the store’s business comes from those who also have homes out of state. He said some are staying out of state and are not come to Vermont.
He said the hope is with opening the store back up to in-person shopping, business will only be down about 15% instead of 30%.
He said the store tried to apply for a loan from the federal Small Business Association, but co-ops were only recently allowed to apply for such a loan. He said the paperwork didn’t match up for how a co-op is run so it was difficult to fill out the application. Youngbaer said the day the paperwork was completed he was told the money had run out.
But he said another round of funds was recently made available from the SBA and he’s applied Thursday morning for a $277,000 loan. He said that’s what the economic impact has been predicted to be due to the pandemic. Youngbaer said that includes hazard pay for the store’s workers, the additional phone lines and the lost revenue. He said the co-op also had to pay more for credit card and debit card transactions because up until a couple weeks ago the store stopped taking cash in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Prior to the pandemic, customers were allowed to bring their own containers for bulk items, but the store had to start packaging those products for sale and that packaging also increased expenses at the co-op.