By Bob Uphues
Local independent grocers say they're still very busy since the stay-at-home order has meant families are cooking in more, and while there remains a steady stream of walk-in customers, some customers would rather avoid close contact with fellow shoppers, at least for the time being.
On Monday, Riverside Foods, 40 E. Burlington St., started its new "curbside" pickup service as more and more people seek to avoid in-store shopping, if possible.
Prior to instituting the service, Riverside Foods delivered to customers in Riverside and nearby towns. The store provided the service, meant to provide an easier shopping alternative for senior citizens, twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In the past couple of weeks, however, the sheer number of orders was just getting to be too much.
"There was such a crazy amount of demand that it was hard to be strict on prioritizing the elderly, so we needed another option for people, because we just didn't have the capacity," said Peter Boutsikakis, co-owner of Riverside Foods.
According to Boutsikakis, Riverside Foods has been assigning extra employees to collect food and ring up the items on those days, and rented a van to make about 100 deliveries over two days last week.
Boutsikakis said he hopes the curbside option will take some pressure off of the delivery service as well as provide another way to keep down crowds inside the store.
Riverside Foods is offering pickup outside the rear door on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 4 and 5:30 p.m. Boutsikakis said that people can email orders in any time, but the store has to receive them by 11 a.m. on curbside service days to ensure they can be filled for pickup that day.
In addition to the order, people need to provide credit card information and contact info when they order. More information is available at riverside-foods.com/pickup.
As customers arrive, they call the store and let them know their order number so an employee can bring it out back to their vehicle.
Boutsikakis said that the curbside service might continue on after the stay-at-home order expires.
"I feel confident we'll continue this, and I'd like to get to the point where customers can click on items online and offer that for delivery and pickup," Boutsikakis.
Dennis Tischler at Tischler Finer Foods, 9118 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield, said that while his store does not have a delivery or pickup service yet, he's been considering such options after customers expressed interest.
Both stores have tightened up social distancing and employee safety measures in the past couple of weeks. Both offer employees the option of wearing masks and gloves, and they have also placed plastic dividers between customers and cashiers at the registers. Tape on the floor reminds customers to keep their distance from one another while standing in line.
But business at both stores remains brisk.
"It's been encouraging, because people want to shop with us," said Boutsikakis. "They want to shop locally, and customers have shown good understanding and patience."
Boutsikakis mentioned in particular one anonymous donation of gift cards to Sawmilly, a sandwich-centric restaurant across the street, which were used to buy the staff lunch one day.
"It really lets the employees know you're servicing a community," Boutsikakis said.