Though we often joke around in our flyer and on our social feeds, we take our role as stewards of the community very seriously, and we always have. Being as progressive as possible is a part of our DNA, and we are proud to have been one of the first grocery stores in Canada to enact serious Covid policies around social distancing and sanitization.
In July, right after the new mask bylaw was first put in place, we contacted Toronto Public Health to ask for clarity around best practices. We were told that so long as we offered a reasonable accommodation for any customers who are unable to wear masks, such as either a delivery or curb-side pickup option, the best practice would be a mandatory mask policy with no exceptions. At that time we weren’t able to offer those accommodations, so we allowed those with mask exemptions to continue shopping, but as of two weeks ago (with the launch of our new shoppable website, shop.thesweetpotato.ca) we now do, and we have thus changed our policy to reflect what Toronto Public Health says is best practice.
By far the most frequent concern we’ve heard over the past few months, from both customers and staff, has been about mask-less shoppers. This includes complaints from healthy people who are concerned about the pandemic, and also from those who’re immuno-compromised or shopping for immuno-compromised relatives. We think that these concerns are reasonable, especially now that numbers in Ontario are higher than they’ve ever been, and we feel morally obligated to protect the most vulnerable in our community.
Some people have suggested that this means we’re discriminating against those with mask exemptions. This is simply not true. We’re still offering the same great service and products at amazing prices, and we’ll deliver them to any address within a 5km radius. The Ontario Human Rights Commission plainly states that it is our duty to provide these types of accommodations so that all members of the community can have access to our products and services, and also that curbside pickup constitutes precisely such an accommodation, and we couldn’t agree more. If you’d like to read more about their position and why what we’re doing is exactly in line with it, please see here: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/covid-19-and-ontario’s-human-rights-code-–-questions-and-answers
Other people have asked if it might be possible for us to have a reserved time for mask-less shoppers like we do for people who are high risk. We talked about this extensively, but if you step back just a bit it’s easy to see that would be an extremely classist policy. It implies that the safety of our customers is more important than the safety of our staff, who would still be working during mask-less shopping hours. We couldn’t disagree more – we believe that the safety of our staff is just as important as the safety of our customers – so that’s a hard no from us on that one.
Still others have asked ‘but I have a mask exemption and what if I want to choose my own watermelon? Aren’t you discriminating against me by not letting me do that?’ Of course not. All over the world, including here in Canada at many markets and farmer’s markets, self-service is not an option. In fact, my grandfather’s original grocery store on College St was not self-service. You had to walk up to a counter and ask for 2lbs of plums and a head of broccoli, and someone fulfilled your order for you. That’s the way it was for a very long time, and still is in some places, and it has never been discriminatory. Though we appreciate that being able to shop for your own groceries can be a nice experience, especially in our totally awesome store, we also think the unprecedented public health crisis caused by the pandemic demands that we all work together. As such, we’ll deliver you watermelons, or anything else you want and we’ll be happy to offer a refund if the watermelon we picked wasn’t up to your standards. If that isn’t a good enough accommodation for you, and you’d rather risk the health of our staff and our community because you still want to choose your own melon, we don’t think the problem is us or our generously accommodating policies.
We have been in direct contact with some customers who can’t wear a mask, and for whom online shopping may be difficult. We have worked hard to stay flexible and creative to always accommodate our customers. If you fit into this category, please reach out to us directly. Likewise, if you have additional questions or concerns, we invite you to share them with us at info[at]thesweetpotato.ca, but also feel free to contact me personally.
CEO and Founder, The Sweet Potato