How did your life change during these times?
This year, one of the most challenging issues we faced has been the COVID-19 pandemic. When I first heard about coronavirus, there was a lot of confusion and fear. I did not know what to do in terms of my store. What is so scary is that it does not have a cure yet so it can affect everyone. Being a fairly new and small business, we did not have a lot of guidance from outside on how to deal with this unique situation. We faced a grave dilemma. If we close, the food will expire. How do I pay rent and feed my family? If we stay open, there will be many problems. We would be putting people’s lives at risk, including that of my own family.
We ultimately decided to keep the store open but reduced our operating hours from 11am to 8pm instead of 9am to 9pm. This was the best solution since it would allow myself and my customers to be safe while helping my family stay afloat. However, there was still a lot of work to do. We didn’t have outside help. I watched the daily news to stay informed about the city’s social distancing orders and followed precedence set by larger retail stores in my area. We had to make lots of changes. We put up a sign asking customers to wear masks and gloves before entering. We installed a glass shield at the cashier counter for protection. I periodically wipe door and refrigerator handles, counters, shelves, baskets, carts, and use disinfectant spray throughout the store. It is repetitive and demanding. I am not saying this to complain but to show that is absolutely necessary for the greater good.
The pandemic has greatly impacted our business. The number of customers has been considerably reduced because everyone is scared. This, in addition to the reduced store hours have significantly hampered our business.
The pandemic has also impacted our community. Our store is more than just your typical grocery store. For many Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, it is a reminder of their identity and their home for which they long. Our community is extremely close knit and everyone knows one another, whether from their neighborhoods in North Carolina, the camps in Nepal, or the villages in Bhutan. Our store brings them together and here, they mingle and catch up whenever they see each other. However, due to the pandemic, we had to discourage them from doing so and many customers had a difficult time adjusting to the new rules.
I am thankful we didn’t have to lay off our employees. But I know that my community has been impacted severely, with many of them losing their job. At this time more than any other, I am grateful for welfare programs like EBT because most of my community people depend on it, which in turn has helped our business above water. This year has been the most difficult but it has shown me the importance of community and its strength. And for them, I am grateful.