BUCKTOWN — After Gov. JB Pritzker announced a stay at home order for the state of Illinois, a Bucktown grocery store and wholesale food distributor decided to make a change.
As an essential business, Local Foods could have stayed open. But on March 23 the store closed its doors to shoppers and enacted a storewide contact-less method for grocery shopping.
Customers now “shop” online via Mercato. Local Foods offers curbside pickup for customers. You can also request delivery if you live within a 16-mile radius of the store, 1427 W. Willow St.
The system isn’t perfect, but it’s what Local Foods co-founder Dave Rand felt was necessary to protect the store’s employees and customers.
“When you’re dealing with something like a pandemic and a virus theres so much you can’t control,” he said. “We felt very strongly about was that we wouldn’t risk our employees at the expense of the business.”
Thus far, customers have responded well, Rand said. The store is filling between 150 and 180 orders daily. And food producers — the Midwest-based farmers and growers working with Local Foods — have continued to send food.
That’s kept Local Foods in business, Rand said. Thus far the company has been able to retain each of its roughly 50 staffers, he said. Employees have been provided gloves and reusable cloth face masks.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response, we’ve been doing everything we can to keep up,” Rand said. “Our team has never worked harder [than] in the last three weeks. … We can’t be a byproduct of this pandemic. We refuse to go out of business.”
Local Foods opened in 2012 as a wholesale food distributor connecting Chicago restaurants with local farmers. In 2015 the Local Foods added the grocery store.
Distribution still makes up a big part of the business, and Rand said he hopes Local Foods will be able to meet demand once Chicago overcomes coronavirus and restaurants are allowed to resume business.
One down side to contact-less shopping is that customers no longer get to communicate face-to-face with produce manager Juan Saenz or butcher Ilya Bonel. But those relationships have continued by phone, Rand said.
Overwhelmed by the idea of online grocery shopping? The store is offering “stock up boxes,” which include basic items like milk, eggs and bread. You can also order meal “kits,” which give you everything you need to make Italian beef or tacos.
“Everything in life has become more stressful and more anxiety ridden. We don’t want your food shopping to be part of that,” Rand said. “We want food to be healing. We think we can really contribute to being part of the solution to this public health crisis and not part of the problem.”
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