Claire and Brad Walker own the Matakana Four Square.
Hannah Millow and Hamish Townshend were thrown in the deep end.
Supermarket staff found themselves on the frontline of the national response to Covid-19 during lockdown, and the pressure was particularly pronounced in community superettes.
In Mangawhai, Hamish Townshend and Hannah Millow had only taken over the reins of the Molesworth Four Square two months prior to lockdown.
The store’s team expanded from 26 to 34 employees to meet the demand of local shoppers.
The nearest full-sized supermarket was more than 40km away.
“We had to learn the ropes of owning our first store while navigating alert levels, but the support from the local community was incredibly uplifting,” Hamish says.
Matakana Four Square owner Brad Walker says the experience became real for his team when a customer turned up in a full hazmat suit on the day lockdown was announced.
“He spent a fortune on a pile of goods like he was filling an Armageddon bunker. That rocked us a little because it suddenly felt real.”
Brad quickly installed plastic shields at counters and hired a doorman to ensure there was no more than eight people in store, despite being permitted to have 18.
Brad says the lockdown was similar to the summer rush, with roughly three times the usual turnover.
“But the summer rush is only two weeks of holidays and a few long weekends. This was seven weeks.”
The store hired night, fill staff who busily restocked shelves until 10pm.
Brad says shoppers’ baskets of groceries grew to twice their normal size, as people used the Four Square as an alternative to supermarkets.
In the first week, shoppers tended to buy tinned food and pasta, while in the second and third week sales skewed toward confectionery, liquor and tobacco.
“People started out wanting their treats but then there was a swing back to fruit and veggies as people went back on their diets.”
At the start of lockdown, Brad let each member of his team decide if they felt safe enough to work and some made the decision to stay home.
“I have to take my hat off to the team, they were legends. They were having to work longer hours but there were absolutely no complaints,” he says.
“We met together and agreed we felt privileged to have a role to play in the community.”
During lockdown, the store launched a delivery service for over-70s, as supermarkets became overwhelmed with three week delivery delays.
“There was not a lot of thought behind it, we just let people email in their orders and delivered it. I am sure we botched some orders, but we heard absolutely no complaints.”
At the peak, the Matakana Four Square was doing 16 deliveries a day.
“It wasn’t about making money. It was about keeping people fed with the staples.”
Since the end of lockdown, Brad has made sure that each of his staff have had at least a week’s holiday to destress.