Hardware store shoppers: 'Jaysus, but I never thought this day would come'
Customers get glimpse of what retail in the future may be like as they focus on getting in, getting out and getting home
DIY stores opened their doors for the first time in seven weeks as part of the initial phase of the lockdown exit. File photograph: Getty Images
“Jaysus, but I never thought this day would come,” said a man outside the Homebase hardware store on Dublin’s Naas Road as he collapsed his car’s back seats and stacked eight large panels of wooden fencing on top of one another.
He was beaming as he spoke and looked more like a little boy opening his Santa presents on Christmas Day than a middle aged man trying to fit the makings of a long and hard day’s work into a small car on a dreary and drizzly Monday morning in May.
“I’ve been waiting months to get this stuff,” he added by way of explanation, before hopping into his car and setting off with his boot flapping wildly and his prized panels bouncing ominously behind his head.
It was less than 30 minutes after the DIY shop had opened its doors for the first time in seven weeks as part of the initial phase of the lockdown exit and the 50 or so shoppers who were edgily navigating its aisles were getting an early glimpse of what retail in the time of coronavirus will like.
It was different.
The first point of difference was the queue before the shop opened. There were 45 people standing patiently in line just before nine, each one diligently adhering to the new social distance rules and standing on the yellow tape marking out two metre gaps.
About half the people were wearing face masks, several had scarves wrapped tightly around their faces as if keeping out a bitter wind.
“It is good, we are delighted to get back and do a bit of growing and it all seems quite organised so far. I’d say it will be very much like what you would expect to see in a supermarket. I have a clear idea of what I need,” he added.
Ronan Heaney from City West was also in the queue and he wasn’t planning to hang about once he got through the doors either. “I’m getting garden furniture,” he said. “I’ve been waiting weeks for it. It will be quick and easy, in and out.”
Brian Kelly was in line waiting to buy compost and he too said he would be “in and out in two minutes”.
He has started growing oranges and lemons - something he insists is possible, even in Ireland. “I have been watching it on YouTube and it can be done but I need a special type of compost. I am hoping they have it, fingers crossed,” he said.
Then the doors opened. There was no rush for the entrance like you might see at the start of the winter sales. Everyone moved very slowly and carefully and just outside the sliding doors stood a staff member wearing a high vis jacket.
He gave people precise directions as to where they would find the trolleys and hand sanitiser.
Once through the doors, another staff member asked people if they knew what they wanted and pointed them to where they might find those items.
People shopped briskly and anxiously before making their way into a clearly marked funnel which led to the checkouts, or at least to a large white table some 15 metres from where the checkout staff stood behind Plexiglas screens.
Shoppers were told to put their purchases on the white table - almost as if they were being inspected by diligent customs officials at an airport. The customers were then asked to step back to allow staff to scan the products in a socially distanced fashion. Then, as shoppers reloaded their trolleys, the masked staff returned to the relative safety of the Plexiglas case and rang in the numbers. Homebase no longer accepts cash payments and everything has to be done by card.
There was little by way of friendly banter between staff and shoppers as everyone concentrated on the business at hand - getting in, getting out and getting home.
Within minutes of the shop opening the queue outside had disappeared and the handful of cars in the carpark and the people wearing bright blue surgical masks was all the evidence that was needed that while one shop in a normally busy complex may be open again, it was anything but business as usual.