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Working in Retail: The Positives of the Pandemic

Anyone who works in retail will tell you it can be a stressful job. Adding a pandemic into the mix has thrown many retail workers into the front line as essential workers, myself included. Working retail has led to many staff dealing with stressful situations they’d never expected. 


At the end of this month, it’ll have been a year since the coronavirus hit UK shores and spread across the country resulting in multiple lockdowns, an economic crisis and a mass rush to produce a vaccine to try and get life back to some semblance of normality.


While we can’t ignore that there have been countless negative stories surrounding this past year and that we’re now well into our third lockdown, which according to some reports in the last week could last until Easter, let’s not go down that rabbit hole of misery. I’m a big believer in trying to find the good in the bad wherever possible. So I present to you the three positives I’ve witnessed during this pandemic that give me faith in humanity again. Please note that these are my own personal experiences and are not representative of anyone else.


Communities uniting


If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from living in York and witnessing repeated floods that bring communities together (Christmas 2015, anyone?), it’s how quickly communities come together to deal with a crisis.


York is not alone in this. Where I work, the essential shops all came together to create a community support group for the community to help deliver essential food, goods and support to its vulnerable members.


On a more personal level, my 89-year-old grandmother who lives around the corner from me has been self-isolating since before the pandemic escalated, and the entire community around her has helped to support her throughout. I don’t think I have the words to express my thanks to those who supported her with a mixture of chats, children drawings or just checking she had everything she needed.


People thanking retailers


In March we went out every Thursday at 8pm for to applaud our NHS staff for the hard work they do. Whom I also applauded, and while I do not begrudge the NHS for this, it did get frustrating to not hear any thanks for the other people working on the frontline during this pandemic, which included us retail workers that were still working.


So, to just have a small thanks from a customer meant the world to some of us. Just knowing that people understood that we were under an immense amount of pressure due to the pandemic, staff self-isolating, etc. was encouraging.


Customers understanding the new rules in place


One thing that happened quickly in the pandemic was the restrictions shops introduced to help prevent the virus from spreading. The new rules, including limits on customers in the store and enforcing social distancing, have been one of the hardest parts of dealing with the pandemic for me. Believe me, I feel awful having to ask people to step away from other customers or to wait outside as we had too many customers in. This is actually the thing that I’ve received the most abuse for (including having shopping thrown at me because I asked a customer to stay still while I was serving her over the counter). But, for every bad customer, there’s been another customer who’d apologise for not “following the rules” and thank you for reminding them. We totally understand that the rules are confusing, especially as some shops have totally different rules in place and it can be difficult to remember which shop has which policy.


Words By: Katy Colbert 

Edited By: Nina Bitkowska 

A 'mature' second-year English Postgraduate student. When my head isn't in books for university, I can usually be found selling pasties, running my local Beaver scout colony, drinking a stupid amount of coffee or adding books to my ever-increasing to-read pile, you know, instead of reading them.
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