In the city that never sleeps, life has changed since the onset of COVID-19. New York’s streets have become emptier and conversations with physical retail customers often more intimate. Amidst this seemingly unreal environment, life has continued – and Everin James, Assistant Store Manager in Midtown Manhattan, has chosen to see the silver linings. Below, James shares how his daily life has changed, and how the impact he creates at work has never been more important.
On a typical Monday, I wake up at 7 a.m. I check the weather and get ready to commute to work. Sometimes, I skip breakfast and just have a coffee to be on the road faster.
During the pandemic, I taught myself how to ride a bike. It’s something I’ve never done before and my first attempts were a challenge. Now, daily bicycle rides have become part of my day-to-day life.
Riding my bike to work has become a safer option compared to taking the subway, which most people are avoiding these days. There is much less traffic and I enjoy cycling through the empty streets.
By 8 a.m., I get to my Duane Reade store at 1627 Broadway, which in normal times is a bustling part of Midtown Manhattan, just two streets away from Rockefeller Center.
My colleagues meet me with a smile when they see me in my cycling gear. I often strike up conversations with my teammates, making sure they are fine and their families are well. We are all essential workers in similar situations.
Around 9 a.m., I go through the list of projects and tasks, trying to figure out how I can help, in coordination with my store manager. My regular shifts end in the evening, but sometimes I take over closing shifts, so I get to interact with everyone.
There are fewer customers in the store these days, which allows us to spend more time with each person. I remember, especially during the early days of the pandemic, speaking with nurses who worked nearby. Amongst all the craziness they experienced, they valued us and appreciated the conversations with other front-line workers as they came in to purchase essential items.
Sometimes, people call in with questions or to place orders. A few months ago, I answered a phone call. At first, I didn’t recognize the voice, but it turned out to be a customer I knew. As she was caring for her elderly mom at home, she didn’t dare to leave the apartment. She needed canned food with low sodium because her mother had high blood pressure. She also wanted some of her favorite cookies, along with some other essentials. I took it upon myself to gather all the items and deliver them to her door.
When I arrived, I recognized her immediately, and she was beyond grateful for my service. In the following weeks, she would call regularly. When I didn’t hear from her for a while, I called her to check in. She said that she hadn’t left the apartment in 90 days but was doing fine. We still maintain contact and I hear from her quite often.
To decompress during the day, and if my schedule allows, I take a bike ride to Central Park, pick a nice spot, and enjoy my lunch outside. In the winter, I haven’t been able to do this very often, but I really enjoyed those moments in Central Park.
When I get back to the store, in between completing tasks and serving our customers, I make sure I communicate with my team members to keep engagement strong. We’re all staying physically away from our families, which is hard on everyone. I believe strongly that if morale is high, anything is possible.
In the evening, I say goodbye to my coworkers and ride back home. My bike rides help me relax and it’s a great relief from the anxieties that I occasionally experience. We’re all anxious sometimes, and knowing that helps me care for my customers and meet them with empathy.
At home, my partner is glad to see me. She’s a teacher working remotely, and she spends most of her day in front of her laptop. She’s a great cook and I love smelling what she’s made for dinner when I walk through the door. Most evenings, we watch Netflix and chat about our days. I tell her how strange it is in the city. There are much fewer people on streets that would typically be packed. It all feels very different.
Being at home makes me feel calm. It’s my safe space. The next morning, I will see my colleagues and customers again. I really enjoy working with people. That’s what’s driving me, and I hope that enthusiasm spreads.