Last month, Cowley’s Piggly Wiggly, 727 S. Janesville St., installed three new checkout lanes, which came with new protective shields as a standard option.
Who would have thought--before last year--that protective shields would become standard.
Almost to the date, a year prior, Cowley's Piggly Wiggly had for the first time installed plastic shields, “protection windows,” to create a barrier between store employees and customers, and minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the start of the pandemic, store owner Jason Cowley has strategized how to keep employees and customers safe during a pandemic and how to keep products in stock in the midst of nationwide shortages.
The past year has been like being in the movie “Click,” he said. In the 2006 film, the main character played by Adam Sandler has a universal remote to control time.
“I feel like we’ve been on fast forward for the last year or so – since March 12, 2020,” Cowley said.
Product shortages started last year with toilet paper.
By reading industry publications, Cowley had maybe a week’s notice that toilet paper would be in short supply.
“We tried to secure some toilet paper in advance,” he said.
In retrospect, he said he should have ordered more.
A March 24, 2020, Cowley’s Piggly Wiggly Facebook post informs customers cleaning products, paper products and perishables were being limited.
Since the pandemic began, different products have been in short supply.
With people home more and working from home, Cowley said, “We saw an uptick in anything a cooking show would promote: spices, fresh meat.”
Yeast was out of stock for a while with everyone wanting to make bread, he added.
One department that saw increased sales is liquor and one product that has been continually in high demand is SPAM, he said.
“We’ll get it a couple weeks straight and then it’s out of stock for another month,” Cowley reported.
Anticipating the next shortage has been trying, he said.
“You’re almost outthinking yourself--should we buy certain items or shouldn’t we,” he said. “Products have expiration dates so you can’t over-order. It’s a real challenge.”
Running out of toilet paper or other products wasn’t Cowley’s biggest concern.
“As an owner, I was pretty scared,” he said.
Few people living in 2020 had lived through a pandemic. What would it mean to grocery stores? Would they need to close? No one knew.
“If people need things, they’re going to find things,” Cowley said. “Are they going to loot?”
That was his biggest concern initially.
“We tried to keep an open mind to everything,” he said. “We felt if we could, we’d definitely stay open as much as we could. But just like every other person, we feared for our own safety.
"For all our team members to step up and be in the forefront for the whole year, I’m pretty proud of them.”
He expressed frustration that the government deemed grocery store employees essential but not when it came to vaccinations.
“We see tens of thousands of people every week,” he said.
Last month, Cowley’s thanked Edgerton Hospital and Health Services for helping them get every employee 18 and older who wanted a vaccine get vaccinated.
Cowley said he is thankful for community partners and customers who showed their appreciation to them.
At first, masks were difficult to find. After word got out that the Pig was looking for masks, the store got so many that they had to turn away some and donated others.
While some in the community had time off from work because of the virus, grocery stores did not close.
The only day that the store closed in 2020 that it usually does not is Easter.
“I think for all of my staff, the longevity of us was shortened during this,” he said. “I think we just got mentally and physically worn out during this.”
New services were added including Click and Collect (curbside service through ShopthePig.com) and grocery delivery through Instacart.
Due to the pandemic, the store started closing at 8 p.m, but Cowley said the store may return to staying open until 9 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Last week, a Facebook post from Cowley’s asked customers to please follow the county’s mask mandate. The post also said, “Hopefully, the end is near.”