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Grocer Changed Everything to Keep Her Shoppers and Clerks Safe

Keri Johnson says her work serving the Los Angeles Art District has never felt so rewarding

spinner image keri johnson stands in her grocery store
Keri Johnson, 52, owns Urban Radish, a grocery store in Los Angeles.
Mathew Scott

The reality of the pandemic didn't hit me until one day in early March, when I walked into the grocery store I own with my daughter Mackenzie, and it looked like it had been ransacked. Customers had just about wiped out our stock.

Mackenzie and I realized we'd have to change nearly all our processes overnight. I had sinks installed outside the store so customers could wash their hands. We put as much product as possible online and made delivery free to customers who are older or immunocompromised. We also reconfigured the store to provide ample space for social distancing and to keep the cashiers and customers 6 feet apart.

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Before we opened our market seven years ago, L.A.'s Arts District was basically a food desert. We were one of the early food businesses to open here, and we've always played an important role in bringing people together through our food.

Keeping our 30 employees safe is our number one priority. Everyone comes to work each day with a sense of civic duty and pride. This was always a special, mission-focused store, and it's even more so now.

spinner image interior of the urban radish grocery store  with staff people working
Staff work in Keri Johnson's grocery store while keeping social disance.
Mathew Scott

As restaurants have had to close or switch to carryout, people are getting back into slow food — stews, soups, breads. Suddenly, everyone is cooking and baking. We're stocking and restocking feverishly, and we're quite stressed by the competition to get the inventory to stock our shelves. But every day I experience patience and thoughtfulness that wasn't as prevalent before the pandemic took hold. This crisis is helping people get back to the basics of kindness and good food.

I'm concerned about farmers. With restaurants and cafeterias shut, produce sales have fallen as much as 80 percent in L.A., so we're trying to help by buying directly from farms. And I'm concerned for the homeless community. We are very near Skid Row, and it pulls at my heart.

I know this will pass. I'm proud of the way we've come together for the community and grateful for the way the community has rallied around us, too. I believe this connection will persist long after the crisis is over.

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