retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There was a lovely piece in the Los Angeles Times' "L.A. Affairs" column the other day, written by Holly Sidell, a self-described writer and performer, about an encounter she had in Whole Foods.

Not a romantic encounter.  Just a conversation she had with the guy working at the deli counter that changed they way she viewed her life.

Sidell writes about how, in her early 40s, she was both recovering from breast cancer and the end of a lengthy relationship - physical and emotional scars that left her alone and without much hope that she'd ever find someone with whom to share her life.

Earlier this year, she was planning a socially distanced date - a picnic on the Santa Monica bluffs - and said she'd pick up the food at Whole Foods.  She took the fellow's sandwich order and went up to the deli counter to order her sandwich and, for her date, "turkey on wheat with no spread."

The counter guy's reaction:  "Who eats a turkey sandwich dry?"

Which led into a brief conversation about the challenges of dating during a pandemic.  Here is how Sidell describes it:

We chatted a little more on the subject until he asked if I had ever been married. I told him I had been engaged a few years earlier, and when he asked if I’d been in a relationship since then, I told him the truth: I had dated casually but needed to take the time to heal my heart and body, because I had gone through a lot over the past few years.

“It sounds like it’s been a hard time for you. I’m sorry,” he said, his voice soft, his eyes looking at me compassionately.

“It’s been a hard time for everyone,” I responded.

“True,” he said, “But I really hope you find love again, if that’s what you want. You can have it, you know. You deserve happiness.”

She goes on:

I felt like I was in a movie; one of those moments when you know your life is changing, and so your surroundings sort of fade away. Although I was standing in the middle of a supermarket, in that moment, the fear shifted, and I felt hope start to come back. It was like all the healing work I’d done needed one final thing to make it stick, and it came in the form of the words of a masked millennial with whom I’d had a 10-minute encounter. (Luckily, it was a slow day, so no one was waiting in line behind me.)

I don’t know if such a moment could have happened pre-COVID and pre-masks. Maybe there’s something about not being fully seen that makes us feel safer allowing ourselves to be fully seen.

You can read the entire piece here.

It is a testament, I think, to the power of great people working in a store.  Not every exchange between an employee and a shopper can or will have such meaning, but the connections that can be created between the two can find its deepest expression in the simple act of listening.

It is the ultimate differential advantage.  And an Eye-Opener.