ShopRite: How the pandemic shaped SI’s biggest supermarket
STATEN ISLAND, NY – As the realities of the pandemic sank into the collective psyche of consumers in late February 2020, the hoarding of groceries began. From the resulting depletion of stocks, the food chain has been overhauled. There were shortage and distribution issues. ShopRite owners Kevin Mannix and his son, Tim, reflected on those moments of deep pandemic that left a lasting impact on Staten Island’s largest grocer and one of the community’s largest employers.
“A year ago, it was very dark from March to summer. Who ever thought that we would see our children wearing masks everywhere? Kevin Mannix wondered. He and his son Tim recently discussed the monumental era of the New Dorp store’s boardroom.
“No more salad bars,” Kevin said of his stores. As for the Graniteville and Charleston operations, he adds: “I have no intention of bringing them back to the two stores. Customers are much more receptive to operating with a higher level of security. Product and safety were ultimately the concern. (Some other ShopRite owners have decided to bring back the salad bars.)
Kevin said that for the past year in particular, “The pandemic has radically changed our business. We were the first to put shields on the registers. We respected the rules of the number of people [could occupy] the shop.”
He explained, “Our first concern was, ‘Can we find enough partners to handle this? Our associates were holding on.
Indeed, on the front line of customer service in a tense and germophobic environment, ShopRite staff were pushed to their limits. The Mannixes stressed how grateful the family was to their associates who came to work in the throes of COVID-19.
“Like the doctors and nurses, they have to come forward for battle. In difficult conditions, our associates came to work. It was just a higher intensity level, ”Mannix said.
EFFECT ON THE PURCHASING EXPERIENCE
Spring until summer last year was rough, Kevin admits. He said: “We didn’t have enough products to [fully] stock shelves. Most of our products arrive overnight. As soon as the product was put on the shelves, you had to control the crowds. These were difficult times. Not only were the associates afraid to come to work … we had erratic product delivery. . . It was chaotic. “
Mannix said, “People were raving about the stores. It was not good news on the radio. We have never experienced this as a country. Looking back, we were able to keep the store open. It all came in and we exhibited it. Everyone was on an allowance, especially with toilet paper.
Hoarding has exerted tremendous pressure on the production of toilet paper, napkins and disposable napkins and, consequently, on their distribution. From March to July 2020, the supply was so volatile that supermarket flyers were not issued.
Mannix said: “We hadn’t known for four months when the trucks were coming. It was like wearing a blindfold. He added that sometimes 15 trailers appeared at a time – or none at all.
He continued, “It created incredible chaos to receive deliveries. The staff deserve to be managing it.
CHANGE OF HOURS
During the pandemic, another Staten Island phenomenon occurred – ShopRite changed its hours. On Saturday March 7, 2020, early morning shoppers accustomed to the 24-hour format were told the store would open at 8 a.m. Sometimes in the spring of 2020 the store went out at 8 p.m., then 10 p.m. and midnight. The stores have been open 24 hours a day again since the beginning of May.
Mannix said the world is stopping – no restaurants, no movies, etc. – the supermarket has become the only source of entertainment.
He said, “Nothing was open. Where were people supposed to go? People would come up to me and ask me why I was closing. They thought we were doing it as a penalty. We were doing it to calm everyone down. We did it to clean up, to calm everyone down. There was a lot of pressure on my management staff.
He continued, “We are not going to walk you into an empty store. Good things simply won’t happen. He tested the waters. . . In the scope and scheme of things, nothing really bad happened. Hope we got good marks from customers for being here. If there’s a problem, we’ll be on the front line.
Kevin’s son Tim is hoping the Mannix family’s steadfastness in the face of hurricanes, flooding and the pandemic will resonate with buyers. He also knows that Kevin and the family who work at the company are very accessible. He said, “We are big and small at the same time. But people love our intimate family business. . . We are always there in the aisles, seven days a week. We are constantly making changes.
SHOP ON IF
Mannix got his start in the business at 375 Tompkins Ave., a former A&P that would become a Waldbaum’s and Food Universe. It is now a school. A graduate of St. Peter’s Boys School and St. John’s University, Mannix grew up in Stapleton. His first management assignment was with A&P on New Dorp Lane in 1974. He joined Wakefern in 1977. He purchased the Hylan and Forest Avenue stores in 2007, then quickly began construction on the Charleston location. This last operation took seven years to open.
As he spoke of 2656 Hylan Blvd. at The Boulevard complex, Kevin said, “We’re sitting where K-mart and Pathmark were. Before that there is [was] WT grant. . . “
The first ShopRite on Staten Island was near the Staten Island Mall where Stop ‘n’ Shop now lives. He is part of Wakefern, a purchasing cooperative that started in 1946.
Elder Mannix traced the history of the borough’s supermarkets from his corner of the grocery world. He said, “So here is Wakefern and they opened a store after that in the 80s near the mall. A year after its opening, the owner decides to return the store to Wakefern and [Wakefern] ran it for years.
Then Pantry Pride in New Dorp went bankrupt.
The Wakefern cooperative eventually took over this place. “Then we had two ShopRite stores in Staten Island,” Kevin said. “Then, in 1994, we opened ShopRite on Forest and Richmond avenues; we closed the one in the mall.
Kevin reminisced more about the nostalgia for supermarkets, teaching a lesson on how the industry has evolved over the years using the history of the New Dorp store.
He said: “A long time ago, Pathmark was one of the owners. Supermarket’s General and the name on the outside of the store was ShopRite before the mall became a K-Mart. In 1969, there was a divorce between Pathmark and Wakefern. Pathmark decided to leave the name – the red and blue label. She stayed there until A&P went bankrupt.
Kevin said: “I have been happy and fortunate to give my family a great life.” And he’s still learning. An architect once explained to him why the fruit and vegetable aisle of a Canadian grocery store is so remarkable: the orange ground shatters the bins of colorful fruits and vegetables. That’s why a ShopRite shopper will always see an orange floor as the backdrop to the product aisle.
Tim is now more involved with ShopRite.
He joked, “Slowly but surely I’m getting things out of my father’s grip. At the end of the day, we joke about the day – so much happens in a day, you learn so much.
As for the future, Kevin is committed to continuing the generosity of the market. He said: “We very rarely say no to an organization. Our associates want us to give back. So it’s glorifying to give back.
Kevin added, “Everything is falling into place. If we have our health, we have our families, we will eventually get there.
Pamela Silvestri is Editor-in-Chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at [email protected].