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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Masks, Plexiglas and duct tape lines—working retail during COVID
Amelia Biscardi stands outside her workplace, All Things Right & Relevant (Amelia Biscardi/[email protected]

A few days after COVID-19 was considered a pandemic, the soap dispenser in the men’s restroom of the consignment/thrift store where I work went missing.

When my co-worker told me, my first thought was, ‘Who steals soap from a nonprofit?’

Anxious, worried and uncertain people—that’s who. People who didn’t know what was going on, and fearing a shortage of cleaning supplies, freaked.

On March 17, as I was working my usual evening shift at All Things Right and Relevant in Davis, I got word that we were going to have to temporarily close our thrift and consignment store. We spent the rest of that shift preparing to shut down the store for an unknown amount of time.

Like many others, I thought that we would be closed for a couple of weeks or maybe a little over a month at the most. I was wrong. For 78 days, we stayed closed, and for 65 of those days, I was mainly stuck at home with no income.

I’m lucky; I still live with my parents. I don’t have to pay for things like rent.

Still, I applied for unemployment as soon as I could. Getting through that paperwork was a challenge, but it wasn’t as if I had anything better to do. I wanted to go back to my job. I wanted a reason other than going to the grocery store to leave the house.

Masks became a thing. I made an attempt at sewing some by hand only to realize that my fabric was too thick for a breathable mask. I ended up buying a couple masks from a local rabbit rescue group instead. I started a little garden on my windowsill with a couple herbs; the basil flourished, but the cilantro? Not so much. I picked up my old cross stitch hobby to keep my hands busy during endless Zoom meetings—some of them for school, others to stay in contact with friends. Some of my friends and I started a book club over Zoom, and we usually spent a good 30–45 minutes talking about the book before devoting a couple more hours diving into subjects such as marriage and dating as well as any other random subject that pops into someone’s head.

Online classes kept me busy through the last half of the spring semester—but not busy enough. I missed my friends. I missed stargazing on a country road with them, curled in blankets in the back of a pickup truck and arguing over whether something was a shooting star or just a plane. I missed going out to movie nights and game nights. But I also missed the consistency work gave me. I missed my co-workers and customers.

My boss messaged me on May 20—that we had a meeting the next day. In person. With other people. I was excited to start the process of reopening, but at the same time, it all felt foreign. The next afternoon, I clocked in—something I hadn’t done in around two months. It felt weird to be paid to sit 6 feet apart, wearing masks and talking—not on a screen!—about reopening with some of my co-workers, but I was excited.

My team and I spent over a week preparing the store, doing things like removing racks to create more space for people to safely distance and pulling other racks farther apart. We put down duct tape lines inside and outside, and we put up Plexiglas shields at the register. We put in place cleaning policies to regularly wipe down the counters. We created policies such as one customer per rack, and set everything up to the best of our ability.

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We reopened June 3, and I was so glad to get back to work and see my regular customers. But those first couple of weeks were rough, like barely controlled chaos. While I tried to get into the habit of taking my temperature and remembering my mask before leaving for work, once I was there, I had to remind customers to wear their own masks and inform employees of new safety procedures.

But through the chaos, I saw so many customers who were so happy to be back in the store and have some degree of normalcy returned to their forever-altered lives. Now, even though we’ve been open over four months, I still have to sometimes remind customers to put on their masks.

One of my regular customers comes in every couple days, and about once a month I catch her at the door, point to my own covered face and say, “Mask.” She immediately says, “Oh yeah,” and turns around and heads back to her truck to grab her mask. She’s not against masks—she’s just forgetful, and I can work with that.

One of my main tasks is to work consignment, an area to which people bring in their clothing and sell it through us. I stand behind one of the two podiums hiding behind the Plexiglas and either take consignors’ non-clothing items or look over their clothing items.
A few weeks ago, I had a frustrated consignor who was irritated that I had forgotten to refill the clipboards with sheets that consignors fill out with details of the items they bring in. She seemed very bothered, and I apologized and accepted the blame for the mistake. But then she said something along the lines of, “Oh, this is nothing compared to today.” And as I went through her clothing, she explained that she is a principal, and she’d had a rough day as she worked with teachers to help them adjust to online teaching.

My heart ached for this woman. Both my parents are teachers, and I know the toll that distance learning is taking on teachers and administrators.

I see a lot of consignors on a daily basis, and it has been pleasant working with them again. I know a couple of regulars who usually don’t like to talk, but, since we’ve reopened, they are happy to engage in small talk with me. And I’m glad to give them a little bit of consistency, even if all we talk about is the weather.

One such regular said that she didn’t have air conditioning during one of the triple-digit heat waves. I lamented with her, unable to imagine not having air conditioning in this difficult time. I sympathized; I have had that happen as well for short periods of time, except my family and I could go to the movies or spend a day at the library to escape the heat. She didn’t have those options with a pandemic. She then explained that she’s a night nurse and often sleeps during the day, but, once it hits 2 p.m., her apartment is too hot to continue sleeping.

While very little of my new usual routine at work is ideal, my interactions with my co-workers have changed. And it’s mainly due to the masks.

Many times throughout my shifts, we have miscommunications because our mouths are covered, and I have to ask my co-workers to repeat what they’ve just told me. I often find myself saying, “I can’t hear you—mask.” Communicating with masks sucks. And at this point, I’m just tired of it, tired of miscommunications and having to tell co-workers, “wait a minute, let me come over there,” so I can hear what they have to say. But I’ll survive, it’s more of an annoyance than anything.

A few weeks ago, I was in the breakroom taking my 15-minute break with my mask off. One of my co-workers—who works in a different part of the store—stopped by to get some water, and she said, “I haven’t seen your face in a while.” Nor had I seen hers. Of course, it’s important to now wear masks. But that comment from my co-worker made me think: I never thought I would miss seeing the bottom half of people’s faces.

Still, I love being able to work again and have some sense of normalcy, even if my job leaves me more drained than in pre-COVID days. There are so many extra tasks, extra cleanings and extra adjustments that I have to do every day now. But I love my job. I’m glad to be out a bit in this never-gonna-be-the-same world, interacting with my fellow humans, one distantly masked face at a time.

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