Shopping, the New Normal
by Jacquelyn Giambalvo
photography by Shira O’Neal-Abend
It is time to go shopping. The milk, eggs, coffee, yes, even the chips are gone. I long for the carefree days when I just went to Albertsons in San Dimas without giving it a second thought. Now, this is planned mobilization. On my face is my black cloth mask, which I use quite frequently. In my purse is a small bottle of hand sanitizer since I mostly pay with cash so I have to immediately clean my hands.
For me, leisurely browsing the aisles of the grocery store does not happen anymore. I have prepared a strict list on my iPhone. I want to go in and out of the store as fast as possible. As I walk into the grocery store, even in April 2021, it seems as though shoppers still are buying food and supplies like it is the end of the world. The difference is that the store shelves are now more stocked. Nevertheless, the whole experience is a passive aggressive situation. I can find Lysol sanitized wipes now. Shopping carts are full. Yet, there is a feeling that it could all change in a moment’s notice. We are used to the unpredictability brought on by the pandemic. The reminders that we are still “in it” are there. Shopping carts go down one-way aisles. Giant floor circles call for six-feet of separation. Plexiglass physically separates me from the cashier. Recycled bags are not welcome. My own coffee cup is not even welcome anymore at the in-store Starbucks. Where we were making some progress environmentally, everything now feels more wasteful.
Store workers are less accessible. My question of, “When does this coffee come back in stock?” is not asked. Everything is conducted in isolation or from a distance from others. As I walk through the grocery store, I feel overwhelmed with anxiety. With society’s two steps forward, one step back return to normalcy, I’m not used to being around so many people who are not wearing masks correctly and not following social distance rules. People now seem “germy and gross.” The pandemic has now made me aware of how unhygienic we once were. It is true that with the pandemic and the wearing of masks, the incidences of seasonal flu have all but disappeared. I look back on pictures of concerts, athletic games—places where we sat or stood shoulder-to-shoulder and realize how unhygienic we once were. We will never be the same again. Grocery shopping has changed and perhaps for good. People are now appreciative of essential workers, those up front and those behind the scenes. They are truly essential. Cashiers are separated by plexiglass, masks and gloves worn at all times by everyone working in the store.
In the beginning of the lockdown, it was hard to cease my everyday outings and leisurely browsing down the aisles. Now, I carefully plan when to go to the store to avoid the crowds before everything is sold out. I used to go grocery shopping two to three times a week, now it has dropped to once a week, Wednesdays, early afternoons. Before, you could easily walk in the store and be gone in a good amount of time. Now, with restricted access, there are sometimes lines outside stores, and if you do not plan it well, making a trip to the grocery store could be an almost all-day activity. My family and I have also discovered the luxury of getting groceries delivered directly to our San Dimas house from Albertsons. That has been a life saver for my grandfather who lives in La Canada. The delivered groceries have made it easier and safer for him since he is high risk and should not leave the house. Curbside pickup is a great alternative because you are not in contact with a lot of people, and the items are taken directly to your car.
The scarcity of grocery supplies has made us self-sufficient. Back in the day when bread was predictably missing from grocery shelves, my dad found the neglected bread making machine and re-started a family tradition. We did a lot of home cooking during the beginning of lockdown when everyone was panic buying, and we could not get that much food. We made a lot of spaghetti, pizza and everything not healthy. We enjoyed baking without guilt. We made homemade cookies, brownies and cakes.
My online shopping has also increased since the beginning of the pandemic. I love to buy clothes, but I have not been in a mall since March 2020. Nevertheless, I used retail therapy since I could not leave my house. The excitement of having something new gave me instant gratification for a brief moment. I am not alone. America is undoubtedly addicted to online shopping. People have realized it is more convenient, safer, and has more options. Having items delivered to your doorstep is fast and easy. Online shopping has been popular over the recent years, but the growth in 2020 has skyrocketed. Even though people are slowly getting vaccinated, I believe people will still continue to on-line shop rather than go into stores. On-line shopping eliminates both anxiety and the risk of running into crowds, long lines and worrying about social distancing. I, myself, will still be online shopping once everything goes back to normal. I do miss going to different stores and trying items on before I purchase them, but shopping online has given me some sense of normalcy. Since I did not go into stores, I would purchase clothes accordingly by reading online reviews. Retail therapy gave me a sense of control and a boost of happiness.
And then there is my job, working as a food server at Sena in Monrovia on Myrtle Avenue. It is time for me to go out the door. I even have a checklist for that: black outfit, server book, apron, oh, and hand sanitizer, facemask, and my Moderna vaccination documentation. For some reason, I do not leave home without it, just in case I need it. It is a strange new world.