Student describes what it’s like to work in a New York City grocery store amid coronavirus


Photo provided by Betsaida Mercado

Alyssa Raga, Staff Writer

Senior Betsaida Mercado goes to work every morning to a line of people waiting to get into Fine Fare Supermarkets in Spanish Harlem, Manhattan where she works as a cashier.

Mercado will have contact with hundreds of people during her busy eight to 10-hour shift.

“It’s just nonstop customers throughout the whole day,” she said.

New York City has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic nationally with more than 10,000 fatalities and more than 100,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the UC campus closure, many students like Mercado returned to their homes in New York City, which is the most densely-populated major city in the United States with 27,000 people per square mile, according to New York State data. Therefore, the chances of getting exposed to the virus are high.

With the high influx of people, Mercado said, some people will attempt to stockpile items. Because of the lack of resources, she explained that the store has had to put a limit on how many items people can purchase.

“You can only buy one pack or one gallon of water, one pack of toilet paper, one pack of paper towels and one dozen eggs,” Mercado said. “Customers complain daily about it.”

The size of the store is also something difficult to handle said Mercado. The lack of space is currently causing issues between customers, which Mercado said is the hardest part of her job.

“We get hundreds of customers a day waiting outside in lines to come in,” Mercado said. “We run out of stock for a lot of items quickly,” she said. “Because of the lack of space, customers tend to get irritated and concerned for their health. There have been many arguments and fights.”

With the concern of COVID-19 and the CDC guidelines of staying at least six-feet away from others, Mercado said her store has had to make some big changes to how they run things. 

She said they can now only allow 25 people in at a time. The store even has to keep the doors locked so the only way of entry for customers is if one of the employees opens the door for them. 

While customers are in the store, Mercado said, other people wait in a line outside of the store, a concentration of people that raises some safety concerns.

Despite the issues happening outside, Mercado said that the store is taking every precaution to keep her and her fellow employees safe.

“All employees wear gloves, masks and plastic face shields,” Mercado said. “Cashiers are separated from the customers with a glass barrier.”

Mercado said that she is doing fine despite the fear of contracting the virus, especially since she knows people who have died from it.

“I try my best to be safe,” Mercado said. “I only leave home to go to work. I wear masks and gloves and change them frequently. I also carry Lysol and hand sanitizer with me. I wash my hands as often as I can and consume lots of Vitamin C.”

Mercado said the best advice to customers is to stay calm and protect themselves. She also said that if people are going out, they have to wear masks and gloves and take as many precautions as possible.

“I believe customers should understand that employees are risking their lives to come to work,” Mercado said. “There are some amazing customers who thank me for leaving my house and coming to work.”