- Photos by Anthony Jinson
How the local natural market has operated successfully amid the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping employees and customers safe.
Assuring the safety of employees and customers alike has been a top priority for businesses large and small as COVID-19 has completely changed the ways we live and work. Clovers Natural Market is no different, except that it acted to protect employees and customers much earlier than most — before the idea of offering curbside service had taken off.
“We made the decision to open curbside [services] on March 20,” says Katie Epstein, marketing director for Clovers. “We did it to protect the longevity of the store and to protect our employees. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We felt like we had to stay open to serve the community because we are such a resource for health and wellness. We’ve tried to be the bedrock of local, organic, health, and wellness — and that’s so important during this time, but again, we wanted to protect our store and employees, so we switched to curbside, and the response from the community has been so positive.”
The locally-owned specialty grocer with locations on Broadway and Chapel Hill Road was opened in 1965 as Columbia Specialty Foods by Richard Catlett, who was well ahead of his time with his passion for the organically grown food and natural medicinal alternatives and supplements that are so popular today.
In 1991, employees Patty Clover and Scott Nirmaier purchased the business from Richard and renamed it Clovers Natural Market. Fifty-five years after opening, Clovers is going strong and hasn’t closed at all during the pandemic. Like other grocery stores, Clovers saw a surge of customers in March as the pandemic was ramping up. Both locations are fairly small, which makes social distancing for customers and employees a challenge.
“We had to pretty much switch the entire way we serve our customers, but it’s been really great,” Katie says. “We have a pretty small, dedicated staff that was able to adapt quickly. We take email orders, we take phone orders, and we do the shopping. We bring it out to the customers at curbside and make it as contactless as possible.”
Sustaining a Reputation
Katie says there are about 15 employees at the Chapel Hill store and a dozen at the Broadway store, and no one has had to be laid off. They reduced their business hours to allow staff to use the morning hours to restock and sanitize the stores before getting busy processing the 60 to 100 orders for curbside pickup they’ve gotten every day since March 20.
The success of curbside service can be attributed to the small and dedicated staff that Katie mentioned. She says many of the Clovers’ employees have been with the store for many years, which certainly is indicative that Clovers’ ownership and management values its employees as much as it values its customers. Katie herself has been with Clovers for a total of 16 years — it was one of her first jobs in high school, and after she finished her marketing degree, she reached out to the store to see if she could come back as their marketing director. Clovers created the position for her, and she’s been in it for the past eight years.
“We have people who have worked at our store for 20-plus years — many of us that take [Clovers’] products on a daily basis and know how they work with our bodies and have talked to our customers for many years about their experiences,” Katie says. “We have very knowledgeable employees.” These same employees can be found endorsing their favorite products on the Clovers website and social media.
“My top three things that I think everybody could benefit from are a high-quality multivitamin, a probiotic, and a fish oil,” Katie says. “Those three things are not only critical to our general health and wellness, but also to the immune system.”
Establishing a New Normal
Clovers reopened for in-store shopping on May 25 and has continued the popular curbside service as well. Since reopening in-store services, Clovers has required customers and employees to wear masks while in the stores, and the store has provided face coverings if they don’t have their own. They must also wear store-provided gloves while handling bulk food items — many of which have been pre-bagged and weighed for convenience. The stores have also banned reusable bags for the time being to limit contamination from the outside. Customers are only able to buy limited quantities of some high-demand items like meat, milk, eggs, and paper products. But Katie says that thanks to their strong working relationships with local farmers, they haven’t struggled the way other stores have in sourcing meat and produce.
“Over the past 55 years, there have been various trends in health and wellness, and we’ve tried to stay at the forefront of those trends and carry products that people want while also carrying those tried-and-true things that have a lot of research behind them.”
Katie says CBD oil has been in high-demand at the stores during the pandemic for its claims that it soothes anxiety. Immune supplements like elderberry products, vitamin C, and echinacea also have been very popular during the pandemic.
In a way, the pandemic has been good for the specialty grocery store that got through by prioritizing the health and safety of its employees.
Katie says, “I think people are much more aware now of their health and wellness and their immune systems because of COVID-19, and that has opened the door for us to be able to talk about those things because that’s what we’re passionate about. That’s what we do in this community — continue to educate people about their health and their bodies. It’s what we do and what we will continue to do.”
Clover’s Natural Market
2012 E. Broadway | 573-449-1650
2100 Chapel Plaza Ct. | 573-445-0990