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The Philly Trader Joe’s at 22nd and Market streets in Center City has a reputation for being crowded. During regular times, customers know to expect a long line that snakes through the store.
That line is even longer during the COVID era. To comply with social distancing, TJ’s is capping the number of shoppers allowed in at one time, which means that notorious queue now wraps around the outside of the store and trails down the block.
The line’s length varies throughout the day — but you can now get an idea of what it looks like before you head over.
Philly travel startup Toucan Labs set up a livestream aimed at the store’s front wall from founder Jeff Kuan’s apartment window. The feed broadcasts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., showing what situation you can expect to meet when you arrive.
The video is shot from a distance, so you might have to squint a bit to see. But if the sidewalk along Market Street coast is clear of customers, you’ll have to wait less than 15 minutes to get in, according to the website.
“We were getting a lot of asks from our classmates to check on the Trader Joe’s line, and thought we could set something up to help people who live in different parts of the city and in surrounding areas,” Kuan, a Wharton grad student, told Billy Penn.
Toucan Labs has shifted gears a bit. Instead of focusing on the app that helps people curate travel experiences, the firm is publishing a blog with daily deals at local restaurants like Helm, Bibou and Pumpkin. And setting up helpful webcams.
Grocery stores are some of the only businesses thriving these days. While restaurants, retail locations and airports have had major layoffs, supermarkets like Trader Joe’s — along with delivery businesses like locally-founded GoPuff and ecommerce giant Amazon — have been hiring en masse.
To keep operating, markets have had to make dramatic shifts to adhere to health safety guidelines.
In addition to capping store capacity and lining shoppers up outside, many stores have established senior only shopping hours and even set up protective barriers between cashiers and customers. Stores have also shifted to rely heavily on delivery and curbside pick-up service.
Despite safeguards, shopping in the time of coronavirus comes with acute risks for workers staffing the stores.
Employees at the MOM’s Organic Market in Philly’s Market East neighborhood, for example, picketed outside their location because they said management at the store failed to provide workers with adequate protection and sanitation measures.
On Saturday, a GoFundMe was established to support Philly Trader Joe’s employees who, according to the fundraiser, “have been sent home with little or no pay because they have shown symptoms of COVID-19.”
TJ’s closed its Market Street location in early April for one day of cleaning. The grocery chain told WHYY it would disclose employee coronavirus cases and shut down stores for additional cleaning if a staff member contracted the virus.