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frontline workers
Kim Jhan, one of the co-owners of Merit Fine Wines on Bloomfield Avenue, attends to business at the shop on Tuesday, May 5. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

For many Montclair residents, working during the outbreak means staying home.

But for others, staying home isn’t an option. Their work includes keeping grocery store shelves stocked, buildings cleaned, food deliveries coming, and prescriptions filled.

Montclair Bread Company has been operating with the minimum number of staff needed, in order to help maintain social distancing. The bakery was one of the first businesses in Montclair to begin selling groceries and other needed items along with its regular menu items. Additionally, Montclair Bread Company donates surplus food and supplies to Toni’s Kitchen, which itself is helping people affected by the outbreak.

Rachel Wyman, the bakery’s owner and a baker for eight years, said 99 percent of Montclair Bread Company’s customers have been cooperative and courteous, and very supportive of the bakery’s work. But every now and then, customers will show up, impatient to get an order filled, when it is not their scheduled pickup day. And on some occasions, customers did not show up on their assigned day, and then showed up at the door several days later, angry at not getting their order.

“We’re doing as best we can, and holding it together with dental floss and chewing gum,” Wyman said.

Essential businesses, besides healthcare workers and first responders, include grocery stores, pharmacies, auto repair shops, liquor stores, maintenance and repair businesses like plumbers and electricians, public transportation, and utilities like water, gas and electricity.

On NJ Transit, passengers are required to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

A Montclair pharmacy employee who asked not to be identified said they have dealt with some rude customers. Employees have also experienced shortages of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

Michael Perez oversees maintenance at the municipal building during the day. In the evenings, he is the resident manager at the Montclair Inn.

“We have no one sick here, thank God,” he said of the inn. There are signs up all around the building advising residents and staff of social-distancing rules and personal protective equipment protocols.

Families of the residents respect the no-visitors rule.

The municipal building was disinfected right before it was closed to the public and all non-essential staff in March. It still gets cleaned and disinfected every day.

Business has definitely increased at Merit Fine Wines and Liquor on Bloomfield Avenue.

“You’re either getting the best in people or the worst in people,” said general manager Eddie M., who declined to give his last name. “I feel like everybody’s drinking right now.”

The store staff has noticed an increase in rude behavior by customers since the outbreak started.

The store had to change its hours, revise its delivery procedures, and restrict the number of customers in the store to 15 at a time.

Some of the customers, Eddie M. said, had gotten somewhat difficult in recent weeks: “I feel like, there’s a lot of people — there’s a sense of entitlement,” he said. One customer threatened to go online and write a lot of negative reviews because the delivery time wasn’t what she wanted it to be. Other customers may tip the drivers only a few dollars for an order that was $400 or $500, he said.

On one occasion, a man without a mask lectured a store staffer when she briefly lowered her mask.

However, there are still Merit customers who have been polite, and the store’s regular customers have been very supportive. Some customers bring in items like hand sanitizer for the store staff, and area restaurants have brought meals.

“It’s not a me thing, it’s not a you thing, it’s an us thing,” Eddie M. said. “We’re all in this together.”