Smile Politely

Ask Politely: Shopping, IRL

We’re eager to answer your questions, so do send them to us.

Disclaimer: We are neither experts nor robots, so if you need immediate medical assistance, please hang up and dial 9-1-1; if you need an immediate response to a question, call your mom.


Floor sticker at Meijer that says

Meijer on North Prospect. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Grocery shopping seems to be a hot topic of conversation lately. What used to be the most banal, ridiculous thing to discuss has now become an essential part of flagging to others the seriousness with which you are taking this pandemic as well as where you’re at on the Fed Up With This Shit meter. 

We’ve received a few emails about this particular topic and thought it best to address things in writing. Here are some general questions that have been lobbed our way, both personally and as a magazine:

  • How are you grocery shopping?

  • Have you even been able to get anything delivered?

  • Where are you shopping?

  • Was there any toilet paper?

  • Were people wearing masks?

  • Why are there so many people in the store?

  • Do people realize that masks don’t help if they are around your chin or neck?

And here are some general comments we’ve heard, both personally and as a magazine:

  • Oh, hey, I’m just coming down from my grocery shopping panic attack. 

  • I found toilet paper!

  • I watched a woman touch all the mangoes before walking away without one!

  • Help me to understand the dawdlers.

To summarize: what is the least stressful way to grocery shop, to avoid crowds and minimize my exposure (or exposing others) to the virus?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: While there will probably be some sort of meat shortage at some point, we will not run out of food. You don’t need to hoard things. Some stores are limiting beef purchases right now, and beef is generally more expensive than usual, but there are still lots of other choices, and you can always start looking for ways to try some vegetarian recipes. It’s also a good reason to look to local sources. 

That being said, if you can shop online or limit the frequency you visit the grocery store, do so. Can you go shopping every two weeks? Can you make it three? Obviously, this sort of thing depends on income, space, number of mouths to feed in your household. You may not have the expendable income to do an expensive grocery shop all at once, nor the space to store that much food. That’s okay. Just do what you can. 

One thing that has been a problem is the inability to make SNAP purchases online. This will change on June 2nd, though you’ll have to check with individual grocers to see if they are able to accept EBT payments online. Walmart and Amazon have pledged to do so. 

If you are able, look for times to go that are less busy. Not everyone has this time flexibility, but if you do then use it. Try to avoid the weekend. Weekday mornings after the “senior hours” tend to be a good time. 

Sandwich board at Harvest Market indicates senior and high risk shopper hours, 6 to 8 a.m. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Harvest Market. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

When you do go grocery shopping, get organized. Do some meal planning. Make your list. Then rewrite your list and organize the items by section of the grocery store, so you’re not going back and forth and lingering in the store longer than necessary. If you’re visiting more than one store, make an organized list for that place, too. 

Consider shopping at some of our smaller grocery stores for the things you need: Bombay International, AMKO, Fresh International, Best of Africa, Ashar African Market, Green Onion, El Progreso, Common Ground. They need our business more than Meijer or Schnuck’s or County Market. 

But what about all the morons in the store cramping your physical distance?

Honestly, there isn’t much we can do about the jerks who don’t want to follow the rules. Our best advice is to find a way to let it go. If employees are not abiding by the rules laid out by the state and the grocery store, bring it to the attention of management. 

Per Governor Pritzker’s Stay at Home order, any person in an indoor public space (i.e., a store) must wear a mask or face covering. Most businesses also have their own policies about this. Not all people will follow the rules. This is America, where it is repeatedly made clear that the freedoms of some people (whites, the wealthy, libertarians) are more important than a public health crisis.

At Meijer, Schnuck’s, and Harvest Market, you’ll find arrows on the floor indicating which direction traffic should move in an aisle. This helps to limit face-to-face interactions in the narrow grocery aisles, and it keeps traffic moving. However, you will likely find yourself going up and down aisles you maybe don’t need to, thereby extending your grocery visit. Also, someone will be going the wrong way, cause a shopping cart traffic jam and then proclaim “Oops! Sorry! I’m going the wrong way!” to which you will want to reply, “No shit, Sherlock! Pay attention!” It’s probably best to keep that last part to yourself, and then scoot over to the office supplies area and buy yourself a little notebook where, once you’re home, you can write all of the ungenerous, hateful, impatient thoughts you have about people. 

Blue arrow on the floor at Meijer, indicating which direction traffic should move in the grocery aisle. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Meijer on North Prospect. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

More etiquette: Please avoid touching all of the products. Just pick the one you want. Think of it this way: You’re now a toddler sticking your grubby little fingers in the antipasto plate, or the cheese plate, or the slice of cake at a birthday party. You touch it, it’s yours. You see with your eyes, not with your hands, you know?

What else can we share?

Well, we also conducted a very unscientific, very narrow poll of some friends about the ways they are shopping. Here are their tips for your consideration:

  • Schnuck’s feels like they have their system down. All employees and a vast majority of customers are wearing masks. 

  • I’ve been doing Meijer pickup which now works really well, as long as you have a few days of wiggle room (usually the earliest slots are next day or later); they charge $5. Plus Common Ground Food Co-op phone order for good veggies; they charge $3. You put your credit card in the trunk and they use it. Both of those are no contact at all.

  • Annapoorna is now a great supplement for rice and dried beans, but you do have to go in store to pay; they have plexiglass. They had my order prepped and ready to go. I ordered via email.

  • We’re doing CSAs. Bane Meat CSA did great no-contact delivery already and the quality is excellent. Basically we followed the SP CSA guide and signed up for two veggie shares, meat, and fish.

  • Meijer scan and shop is my go-to. I’m the only one touching the items, and then checking out with a QR code at a self service station. You can’t use your own reusable bags, so either grab some from a register when you get to the store or just leave your shit in the cart and bag when you get to your car, Costco style. 

  • Aldi has a great system of wiping down carts when customers return them, and that’s much appreciated.

  • I’ve done the curbside grocery pickup from Common Ground a couple times, and it’s been great. Totally stress-free. The process of calling in an order in the morning is pretty simple, and my order has been perfect both times. The pick-up process is also very efficient…I don’t mind paying a bit more for a stress-free grocery experience that also supports a local business (and farmers).

In general, businesses here are doing their best to keep their customers and employees safe. Though there is risk everywhere, it’s relatively low when you shop in a thoughtful way. The employees at those stores are the ones who are at higher risk, so for their sake wear your mask, be kind and patient, and do your part to make their lives easier. 

Stay healthy, safe, and sane out there. 


Jess + Julie

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