• Lis Harvey

Retail Survival: Tactics and triage in the time of coronavirus

Did you miss the webinar? Here's a recap for you. We gathered a couple first-rate co-operators for a conversation about how their retail stores are handling the coronavirus lockdown and the ever-shifting landscape of best practices. the monger’s second webinar of the year was a colorful collection of suggestions, advice, stories and community commiseration. Thanks to all who joined the call, and especially to Chicago's I'talia McCarthy (of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op) and San Francisco's Gordon Edger (of Rainbow Grocery Co-op). Will Fertman moderated, Lis Harvey produced.

In Summary

While San Francisco and Chicago are sheltering-in-place, both Rainbow and Dill Pickle are seeing increased sales and unprecedented changes for staff and shoppers. Limiting the amount of customers allowed in the store at any given time has resulted in long lines at Rainbow (up to an hour wait to get in to buy groceries), and quite a few sick call-outs have been limiting the number of staff Dill Pickle has on hand. Care is being taken to protect cashiers and workers—protective glass at the registers, encouragement and support so that people stay home if they or theirs are sick, and temporary hazard pay on top of hourly wages. Rainbow is permitting staff to receive PTO advances. Dill Pickle's sister co-op, Sugar Beet, is seeing 20% of their sales come in just from curbside service. Rainbow is exploring internal options. Their contract with InstaCart prevents them from using additional food couriers.

A Few Questions That Arose

Are there new items small shops are beginning to carry, to service local communities and fill voids? Will is seeing milk and commodities crop up at local liquor stores.

What communications are putting shoppers at ease? Video to increase customer efforts toward safety in stores and with takeout:

Have folks had success applying for small business loans? Deferring rent or loan payments? Some stores on the call had applied for financial assistance or leniency, and had so far heard back from neither government agencies nor landlords.

General tips for retail success in this chaotic time? Be strategic in your buying. We are seeing caps on case quantities. Also, be flexible. Try new channels for distribution and delivery. Watch this space for a direct-to-consumer solution from the monger in the next few weeks.

Chat Stream (for questions & links: full conversation happened by voice)

(Lis Harvey) Welcome to Retail Survival! Use this space to ask questions.

(Jason Herbert) Having Mic Issues, sorry; this is Jason Herbert from Caputo Cheese Market in Melrose Park, IL

(LH) Hi Jason! Hopefully we'll get you back in for the q & a period.

Sometimes leaving the meeting and rejoining is helpful.

(JH) I think I've adjusted the right settings! Muted to be polite, now

(LH) Well done!


Everyone is welcome to put questions in this space.

Gordon Edgar of Rainbow Grocery Co-op in San Fran is speaking...

Our other guest is General Manager I'talia McCarthy, of Chicago's Dill Pickle Food Co-op.

(Amy Thompson) Top selling items?

(The Welsh Rabbit) Is there going to be conversation around smaller cheese shops...just trying to stay in business. Absolutely not doing "holiday level" sells here. We're off 75%.

(LH) Thanks! I'll work these questions in

(Chad DeWitt) Small cheese shop here as well. Week one down 32%, week two down 50%,

(LH) Wow, Chad.

(TWR) Thanks Lis. for future offerings from Monger.

(LH) Most welcome. Thanks so much for your wisdom. I'm keen to hear how certain products (commodities) and clear communications from small shops could boost sales and customer confidence.

(CD) We've applied. Just waiting for a response.

(LH) Any indication of how long you'll have to wait for a response, Chad?

(Lori Burge) Hi friends, Lori from South Philly Food Co-op here. We were close to opening our store (in construction). I am planning to apply for some sources of funding but as a consumer co-op, I am yet unsure if any of the federal funding will help us.

(LH) Hi Lori!

(CD) Nothing more than "we'll be in touch after your application is reviewed". I'd imagine they're kurwhelmed with applications.

(JH) We're still reeling from slashed orders for the mfg & food service side. our retail side was already being reduced. Are retailers looking for new products? new vendors?

(LH) Have you had much success with postponing rent or loan payments?

(TWR) Dean here: I've asked both landlords, neither landlord has replied, but I'm not overly concerned from my perspective. One of the pro's of being small is that they are "small landlords".

(LH) Lucky.

Welcome! Gordon Edgar of Rainbow Grocery Co-op in SF is speaking right now.

(TWR) Frankly even if landlords want to play hardball, legally it'll take them 90 days to get through the legal system. So I don't feel stress there, and if other small shops realize this and remove some stress.

Lis, I need to hop off, but thanks again for everything on this. and keep me updated on Monger and Slack.

(LH) Most welcome. Pleasure to have you on the call, Dean.


(LH) Yes, Amy—this is a good one. I'talia seems to be doing the right thing by her staff right now....

(Tina Wolfe) I’m a small producer of a new line of sunflower seed spreads that launched in January. The response to our product has been positive and we landed 10 stores in 3 weeks. in the current climate, I’m not able to demo the product or reach new buyers. Our ability to grow the business has flatlined. Any advice on how to approach new stores in this climate?

(LH) … In short, she (GM of Dill Pickle in Chicago) is:

Embracing sick call-outs.

Limiting amount of customers in store.

Lines and social spacing.

PTO advances.

Hazard pay (temporary).

(LH) Tina, email me at —after the call, I can help set you up with a free account on the monger that will connect you with new buyers.

(TW) thank you Lis!

(LH) Most welcome.

Anyone can take advantage of my email, there. I'm happy to help y'all get on the monger.

(Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co.) Tim, we are also a supplier and having tremendous success with online orders at this time..

(LH) That is so great to hear.

(JH) Ouch, Gordon! No Mozz?!

(LH) For folks who have small shops and are looking to communicate best practices to their shoppers (to make them feel secure):

Speaking now: I'talia McCarthy, General Manager for Chicago's Dill Pickle Food Co-op

She works with a sister co-op called Sugar Beet, and they've found 20% of their sales right now are coming from curbside pickup

(Gordon Edgar) @jason... some mozz, just not that much. Low moisture block mozz is through the roof!

(April Mesa) @Gordon what about a meltable block goat cheese?

(GE) @april that's going fine. Above average.

(AM) @ gordon great to hear we have a great one local in central Cali we are trying to sell

[Will Fertman mentions that there are a couple dozen buyers on the call, so drop your pitch!]

(Kevin Sandford)


(Katie Bray) I’m with the Oregon Cheese Guild - is there any advice I can give my member cheesemakers?

(WF) Please katie!

(KB) advice from all of you that I should pass on to them?

(AT) Sure! Everyone needs ice cream at this time, the best!


(GE) Just fyi, I have been blogging about my experiences in these times here:

(AM) and

(JH) Gordon's blog posts are wonderful

(AT) Gordon, great blog post!

(CD) Goat and Cow cheese handmade from Western Maryland.

(KS) Tortillas, masa harina, rice, granola, chocolate - all direct lines

(AT) Great flavors to add to cheese board or any meal: Le Bon Magot Chutney

(LH) Wow, fantastic.


(LH) Everyone should email me at after the call

(Karen Grant) I sell specialty crackers, biscuits, and toasts from England, and when customers aren’t buying higher end cheeses, how can I best support my distributors?


(Gourminoltd) keep the Emmentaler and Gruyere in your cooking!

(LH) I’ll get you some one-on-one help setting up your free monger account; the monger is actually an excellent way to find new retailers/new buyers.

I cook with Comte and Gruyere every day!


(AT) Beehive Cheese has a new bourbon cheese with Basil Hayden:

(LH) Yum

(KS) corrected url: mostly CA food makers, direct lines

(AM) @Amy i am a huge fan of the Basil Hayden! I tried it with Candace..

(KB) If cheesemakers have product to move, should they be approaching retailers directly?

(AT) @April it is called Pour Me A Slice! YAY Beehive!

(LH) Katie, that is such an interesting question. Depends on scale, of course, but I would explore new outlets. Even Facebook Market. People trapped at home with their families need food, they need fresh food and they need it in quantity. I think clever and creative solutions right now are going to help cheesemakers empty their cheese caves.

Everyone is invited.

(AT) Thank you to all the retailers, thanks you for getting good food to people, thank you Lis and Will for organizing this call!

(LH) And please email me.

(GE) @katie sure, if they are prepared to do safe transport/shipping.

(RRC&CC) Thank you ALL for being on the front lines with your stores being open for people to get good quality food.

(TW) Thank you for your time and all the great info

(G) thank you everyone for being here and and for all the work you do. you are literally keeping people alive!

(LB) Thanks everyone! Everyone open and serving their communities at this time, y'all are heroes!

Be well!

(KG) Thank you!

(JH) thanks for hosting this chat!

(LH) Our pleasure!

the monger prioritizes care-giving

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