It’s not every day you hear about a business booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. For East Warren Community Market, community support has been so strong that the market is enjoying its most profitable spring to date.
“We’re actually doing a lot better than we have historically in these couple of months. We’ve had a much busier March and April than we’ve had in the past because of this,” said market manager Alycia Biondo.
The market is currently running via curbside service only, which involves taking email orders for groceries and fresh dishes, running credit card numbers or swiping store cards over the phone and then leaving orders out on the porch for pickup.
As a grocery store, the market could have kept its doors open to customers but decided not to do so for the sake of employee health. “When COVID hit, which feels like centuries ago right now, we were open for about two weeks,” said Biondo.
“It got to a point where we were concerned about the health and safety of our employees,” said Biondo. “I thought, if one of us gets sick, what’s going to happen to this place?”
This concern led Biondo and the board of directors to come up with a curbside pickup plan, which changed the business overnight. Implementing the plan was one of the two hardest parts of adapting to the pandemic, said Biondo. “The other hard part has been losing a couple of employees that we adored.” According to Biondo, the market lost several employees, since some immunocompromised employees were at risk.
Still, the market and its kitchen are chugging away, offering all their regular fare, from soups and salads to pastries to peanut noodles. The market has even started to offer prepared dinners. Biondo encourages people to check the market’s Instagram account, eastwarrencommunity, where updates are posted daily.
The market garden is also going full steam ahead, said Biondo. The store will be filled with organic produce from the garden as soon as it’s ready. Soon, even more organic produce will be hitting the shelves from Alpenglow Farm next door. “We are their primary purchaser so soon we will have a lot of local organic produce available,” said Biondo.
The relief fund is another way the market is giving back to the community in a way that extends beyond just those who shop at the store. The relief fund is a donation-based fund which gives store cards stocked with money to families in need. “We’re trying our best to still access folks that may not be regular shoppers here and to make groceries available to them and their families,” said Biondo. Those who want to donate to the relief fund can send checks to the market’s P.O. Box 426 in Warren. “If you have a friend in need, you can give us their contact info and we can give them a store card and tell them they received an anonymous donation,” said Biondo.
Although curbside service is flowing, Biondo misses the mask-free days. “We miss people. We miss being able to see our customers and smile at them,” said Biondo. “Customer service has been a huge part of why our market has stayed open for 10 years on this little corner of East Warren.”
Biondo pointed out that those who work at the market are united by a common mindset. “We all truly believe in the human spirit. We believe that people are good; they want to help each other and see each other through to the end of this. We’re drawing on that here in order to be a positive influence on everyone that works here as well as our customers. We want to show them that, no matter what it takes, we’re going to keep providing for our community.”