It’s been a year like no other here at MOM’s! Below is a letter I sent to all employees:
I founded MOM’s [Organic Foods Express, at the time] back in 1987. People sometimes suggest that it must be difficult and stressful to run such a large company- I reply, “No- the larger the company has gotten, the easier it gets, ironically. The most difficult time was in the first 20 years during start-up, when we’d come to the brink of going out of business every 4-5 years!” And then the pandemic hit…
I’m not sure which was more stressful for me this year- my divorce or being at the helm of a grocery chain during a pandemic! I tell people this was the most challenging year since the start-up days.
Taking a walk down Memory Lane:
- NBA season is canceled, Tom Hanks gets COVID, and panic buying begins!
- Wholesalers run out of inventory- and manufacturers can’t keep up- supply chain issues ensue.
- There was a mass exodus of employees when we needed people more than ever. HR/Recruiting had to replace more than half our employees- and you were tasked with training and onboarding them!
- Safety guidance from county, to city, to state, to inspector! shifted quickly and was at times vague and contradictory- and confusing to all.
- We scrambled for masks, sanitizer, and plexiglass- all for which a Black Market was instantly formed.
- Conspiracy theories took hold with anti-maskers and you all had to deal with their lunacy daily, if not hourly! One anti-masker’s video even ended up on InfoWars, which led to a live picketed protest in front of our Woodbridge store.
- And yes, there were customers- and some employees- who were very afraid- which required patience on our end as well. Anyone remember the customer who periodically sprayed a fog of Lysol around her as she walked through the Rockville store?
- During an already heightened level of operational stress, inaccurate media reports spurned politicians to publicly denounce us- and we were flooded with negative social media comments, emails, and phone calls from across the country. I felt this fully on a Friday afternoon when I received an email from the PA Attorney General claiming that they had “reason to believe” that we were unsafe (based on an article in the Philly Inquirer). It was hard for them to see we were doing more than any other grocer considering they never stepped foot in one of our stores to see for themselves. I called a former AG friend of mine and asked him about it. His reply was, “If they’ve contacted you, it is serious and not to be taken lightly.” Within days, the Philadelphia City Council wrote an adversarial letter to me- and publicly denounced us via Twitter- claiming we were providing an unsafe work environment and not paying “Hazard Pay” (we called it “Thank You Pay”). Yet, they never reached out to us directly to confirm if what they’d heard in the media was true.
And April 2020 wasn’t even over yet…
For a grocery chain with 1,200+ employees, I would bet that the infection rate among us was well below all other chains. And my god, the notion of a fatality was terrifying. We had none, thankfully. Think about that- with all of our employees and all of our customers and the millions of interactions we had this past year. I feel immense gratitude.
So here we are- over a year later. Every person has had the chance to get one of the most successful vaccinations ever created. Science has saved us. According to the CDC, through May 17th, of the more than 123 million people vaccinated, the reported hospitalizations of “breakthrough infections” (those who have been fully vaccinated) is 1949. That is a rate of .0016%. And there is very little evidence that vaccinated people realistically threaten to spread the virus to others.
I’m sure you’re noticing every day at the stores that people are coming in for the first time in over a year. Hopefully, moods are lighter among the vast majority of our customers. However, I receive about 40 emails per day, sometimes angry- half from those requesting we follow the CDC and local guidance- and half requesting we don’t- and I’m sure you’re experiencing this as well.
We are in a fast-moving transition period which can be confusing and unsettling. However, I witness and am reminded daily of the ‘silent majority’- those who are quietly managing their anxieties and treating people with kindness.
As we transition out of the pandemic- and some of the PTSD we might have acquired along the way- each of you are welcome to continue to take measures that help you feel comfortable- wearing masks, socially distancing, wearing gloves, etc.
In this day of high politicization of almost everything- and even though we are a politically progressive organization- MOM’s will continue to have a culture that rises above fear, misinformation, and demagoguery (from both “sides”)- and remain dedicated to facts, truth, and science.
[Here is a relevant article: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/05/liberals-covid-19-science-denial-lockdown/618780/?fbclid=IwAR1o-umHpfJBR6q5aby9-bxZo54hW0BkxGLynwh8CAbezy2T2EAZg2_eKpU]
We will be in frequent communications with you as guidance changes.
Thank you- for everything.