CHICAGO—The second day of the NACS Show kicked off with a panel that explored not only the adversity retailers faced during the past 18 months but also how three of them turned that adversity around to help their employees, their businesses and most importantly their communities.

The first recorded case of COVID-19 in the U.S. happened in the Pacific Northwest in January 2020, and Don Rhoads, owner of the Convenience Group—which owns half a dozen Minit Mart stores in Vancouver, Wash., said that by March it was clear that things had changed.

“March was our busy month for the year,” he said. “We had NACS Day on the Hill, and you could tell something was different. You could tell we were in some uncharted waters.”

That was also the time when those waters had made their way to New York City, where Rachel Krupa, founder of The Goods Mart, found herself faced with a decision.

“It was March 13 when everything shut down,” she said. “So, we [were wondering], should we close because it’s not safe? How do I help my team and keep them safe? And how do we serve our community? We called the state, and they said you have to stay open because you are an essential business, and we need your help no matter what. And at that point it was full speed ahead.”

Rhoads and Krupa launched efforts in their respective communities. For Krupa, it was street side cookouts, snack boxes that were sent out nationwide and a program called Taste and Tell that highlighted five brands in the store each month with a QR code that leads to a customer survey for those brands. For Rhoads, it was raising money and supplies for the Clark County Food Bank that culminated in a drive-through event that served 250 cars in 55 minutes.

For Lonnie McQuirter, director of operations for 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis, 2020 saw not only the pandemic, but something that hit much closer to home. George Floyd was killed just blocks away from McQuirter’s store, which suffered break-ins and damage during the protests that followed.

“We had to adapt quickly to that,” he said. “We had to make sure we knew what was most important—our staff, our customers and also the community that we serve. We’re honored to have a business that survived it and had people there for us during all of the events that took place.”

McQuirter said that his store not only had to respond to that, but, like everyone else, he had to figure out how to respond to the needs of the community during the pandemic as well.

“We sell cokes and smokes, and people needed that,” he said. “But beyond that, people needed that sense of community. There was really that search for meaning from people and that sense of belonging. How do we make people feel okay and feel safe? What do the customers really need?”

Also in this issue from NACS Show Daily