Frontline Heroes: A day in the life of a Rochester Hills grocery store worker

Audrey B. has spent nine of her 23 years on earth working at Hollywood Market in Rochester Hills.

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. – Audrey B. has spent nine of her 23 years on earth working at Hollywood Market in Rochester Hills.

She started as a bagger and over time, worked her way up in the company.

“It’s been a long journey and I think I’m still going to be here a while,” says Audrey.

She’s sort of a jack or maybe a jill-of-all-trades at the store and has always been a solid worker.

Store Manager Tony Barcally says, “she’s got a lot of respect from everybody, in all departments,” he adds, “she’s always reliable.”

For Audrey it comes down to her passion. While she enjoys working at the store, her drive comes from human interaction.

Socially Distant

The beeps from the registers echo through the store as Audrey rings up a customer.

She’s wearing a mask with a mustache painted on, and behind it you can tell she’s smiling as she talks with a customer, “having a cook out?” Audrey asks, the customer responds, “oh no, a pig out - haha,” Audrey smiles wider and responds, “that too.”

Her skill is obvious when you watch her, she has an effortless way with people. She rings up another customer, they talk, she’s quick and thoughtful.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” Audrey tells me as she recoils -- seemingly uncomfortable talking about herself, but she goes on, “I’ve always had a passion for making sure everybody is taken care of.”

Since the pandemic, taking care of people looks different. It feels different. It is different. Customers walk through the store, staring at products on shelves, tugging and adjusting their masks. Employees wipe down carts which have been returned from their corrals with disinfectant. Every worker’s first order of business before punching the clock is having their temperature taken by a store manager. Safety precautions are in place to ensure the cleanest, safest experience possible.

“Attention employees…” Audrey is speaking into a phone, which connects to the stores overhead speakers, “It is 2 o’clock, please take some time to sanitize your stations. Thank you.”

Back at her register, Audrey looks through the plexiglass partition, which has been placed in the area between customer and cashier, “we clean all the time, you know, we stay as safe as we can.”

Even with all the precautions in place, there’s still a risk involved, she could get sick being close to so many strangers. Audrey is willing to concede that those thoughts do cross her mind, “it does, it does,” she says, “It does cross my mind, but I try not to let it affect the fact that I still need to give good customer service.”

Audrey starts a rather quick march to the back of the store, she’s getting a curbside order ready. This has been one of the biggest changes, she says, people need groceries, but don’t necessarily want to shop for them. The uptick in online ordering is good, in the fact it keeps business afloat, but for Audrey, it takes away from the part of the job she really enjoys, “I love chillin’ with my customers, ya know, high-fives, handshakes, hugs.”

She says, she’s happy to be around them still, “It’s so good to see them! It’s just seeing them a little bit differently now.”

Audrey’s eyes peer over her mask, looking at the people around her. She sees her coworkers, products and customers, the same as always, but also not the same. She stops to think and goes on to tell me that she knows being a cashier doesn’t make her a hero to most, “me bringing someone’s groceries is not going to be a life-changing experience for 99.99-percent of my customers. It’s just not, because that’s a mundane activity, but for some, that is what’s getting them through. That is what they need right now.”

Normally, Audrey splits time at the grocery store and substitute teaching elementary school kids. The teaching part has been put on hold due to the pandemic. She’s a focused employee and considerate human. Before I left, I had one more question for her, what’s up with the toilet paper hoarding? Her answer, “People thought of the thing that they couldn’t live without. ‘What is one thing, that if I never got to go to the store again - I couldn’t live without it.’ You can’t really make toilet paper. You can get seeds, you can grow your own stuff. You can get plenty of things. Toilet paper is not one of them.”

Toilet paper is not one of them and neither is human interaction.

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