Shopping in a pandemic: how the retail experience has changed in Winnipeg

By | June 30, 2020

Whether it’s shopping for bread or bridal wear, COVID-19 has created a vastly different retail experience for customers.

At Winnipeg’s Harvest Bakery and Deli, on Grant Avenue, the smell of fresh bread is the same but operations manager Tina Scowen says buying it is a lot different.

“We’re a bulk bun business, so we bake fresh daily and we throw it in the bins loose,” she said. “Everything is loose, so we had to change everything.”

It used to be grab-and-go but now the bakery is asking customers to grab gloves first, after sanitizing their hands. All of the store’s baked goods are pre-packaged in bags.

The bakery has also introduced curbside pickup, in addition to a lot of extra cleaning. 

“Our staff go around about every 15 minutes and wipe everything down — door handles, bin lids, the cash area, debit machine is wiped down after every use,” said Scowen.

Tina Scowen, operations manger at Harvest Bakery and Deli, said COVID-19 has changed how the bulk bun retailer sells to customers. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

On April 1, the Manitoba government ordered all non-critical businesses and services to close in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

As case numbers in the province remained low, the province decided to allow non-essential businesses to reopen on May 4, under strict conditions. Some of the rules included limiting the number of people on site, ensuring physical distancing and increasing the cleaning of surfaces.

At Poppie Clothing on Corydon Avenue, owner Leona DeFehr opened her doors reluctantly. Initially she asked all customers to wear gloves and masks. 

“As the weeks started to go by and the numbers were really going well with COVID in Manitoba — which we’re so thankful for — we realized it would be okay for people to just come in, and as they enter the store, apply hand sanitizer.”

All fitting rooms are cleaned between uses and all garments are steamed after they are tried on, she added.

“We were a little skeptical how it would all go at first but it’s actually gone quite smoothly,” DeFehr said. “We certainly have found that people have been really wanting to shop local, really wanting to support local and I think Winnipeg is really fortunate in that way.”

Leona DeFehr, owner of Poppie Clothing on Corydon Avenue, welcomed customers back to her boutique in May with a number of extra safety measures that initially included masks and gloves. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Some stores require masks, temperature checks

Retailers across the province are taking a wide range of approaches to ensure staff and customers are shopping in a safe environment.

The Apple Store at Polo Park mall is taking customers’ temperatures.

Meanwhile, 7th Avenue Fashions, a family-run bridal store, has shifted to appointment-based shopping for the foreseeable future.

Owner Melina De Luca said she had to reduce her staff on site and appointment-based shopping is the only way to ensure the same level of service.

“For me, every time I turn that door to lock it it’s devastating,” De Luca said. “If anyone asked me 30 years ago that when I got into this business that I would be locking my door — never.”

What is normally a bustling bridal boutique — full of brides and their wedding parties for fittings — is now limited to one customer and two guests at a time, De Luca said.

The shop also requires everyone wear a mask while shopping.

“It gives me peace of mind,” she said. “We are in very close proximity with our customers when they’re trying on dresses so I think me protecting them, and vice versa, is very important.”

De Luca said COVID-19 has impacted her professionally and personally. She lost her cousin to the virus in Winnipeg this past spring.

She is trying to remain positive and said she is starting to see an improvement in consumer confidence.

“More appointments are being booked. I feel like I’m going to get my staff back in here in a lot here faster than what I expected,” she said. “I think we are feeling more optimistic.”

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