Winchester BMR, an essential service, remains open but urges casual browsers, returning travellers to stay away

Winchester BMR. Nation Valley News file photo

But Country Treasures gift shop is closed

WINCHESTER — Hardware stores have been deemed “essential” since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and that remains true after Premier Doug Ford put the force of law behind the closure of non-essential shops yesterday. As such, Ken Boje and his crew at Winchester BMR have been working hard to supply this particular demand in the community since regular life was upended more than a week ago.

After all, broken toilets still need to be fixed, water softeners need salt, and farmers need all manner of parts at a moment’s notice to go about the vital business of producing food. And then there’s the hot demand for the cleaning supplies that Boje has placed just inside the entrance of the County Rd. 31 establishment to ensure folks don’t unnecessarily traipse through the aisles to find these most popular items.

“The majority of staff are here,” Boje says of the workforce of 30, noting the exception of two or three older members.

While the store is open — with the exception of the internal Country Treasures gift shop (which closed as of last night) — social distancing measures are in place for staff and patrons. Signage at the entrance reminds anyone with respiratory symptoms, or who has been out of the country in the last two weeks, to stay away. Newly installed plexiglass dividers shield cashiers from the public and tape on the floor shows the proper standing distance.

However, potential browsers are asked to shop the BMR website online before coming in to make an actual purchase. Better yet, they can call in their orders and either arrange pickup at the store or ask for delivery.

Ken Boje. Nation Valley News file photo

Since last week, Boje says, the store has been offering free delivery on household items and cleaners and arranging payment through e-transfer over the phone in an attempt to minimize traffic past the cash register. (A delivery charge still applies to lumber and construction materials.)

Staff are able to bring orders out to the parking lot as well, he says, meeting customers in their vehicles with their desired items. Remote credit card terminals to speed up the payment process for these drive-up buyers are on the way, he adds.

Employees also keep an eye on the entrance to help customers in and out of the store as quickly as possible and ensure social distancing etiquette is maintained, he says. Everyone entering must wash their hands at a newly installed soap-and-running-water station at the front door.

The Country Treasures section of the store has been taped off from public access, and Boje says it’s a result of Ford’s closure notice for non-essential businesses yesterday — as well as concern with the amount of casual foot traffic and browsers that visited Winchester BMR on the weekend, drawn in part by the giftware.

“For us, it sends a message … I think we need to focus on some of the other things that are going on. People don’t need that [giftware], and it’s one less reason for them to come in. For other things, they can come in, and we can get them through the cash quick.”

He adds, “Our big concern was, on the weekend, people were out that shouldn’t be,” conceding that “staff had anxiety with that too.” In a couple of perplexing incidents, visitors inside the store proclaimed their recent arrival from outside the country. In another case, a man in his 70’s — despite advice from the local health unit that people of such age stay home by default now — came in to buy pool chemicals to ensure he could take the plunge when the swimming season begins in June.

Boje says he reminded the individual that he could have delivered the items, and that he should have been at home.

“A lot of people still don’t understand the magnitude of it,” he says.

Business has been brisk, he says, though obviously not for reasons he would have wished.

More cleaning supplies are coming in today and tomorrow, he says, and his suppliers’ trucks from BMR and elsewhere continue to arrive. But he and his suppliers are being rationed on some items now, limited to the amount purchased in the past — instead of what they might like to buy today given the demand.

Boje also reports a sudden surge in “panic calls” received at the store yesterday after the premier announced the mandatory closure of “non-essential” establishments without immediately releasing the list of those affected. The proprietor says he called local MPP Jim McDonell to voice his unhappiness about the uncertainty and suggests other retailers likely put pressure on the province as well. The list was subsequently released late yesterday afternoon.

He also also foresees more self-reliant vegetable gardens being planted in the area this growing season, as he’s noticed surging demand for vegetable seeds. Expect to see fewer flowers in this year’s garden centre and more vegetable plants as well, he says.

A family business operated by Ken and Trish Boje, Winchester BMR continues to re-evaluate whether to keep its walk-in retail area open.

In a Facebook post yesterday, the company expresses thanks to everyone involved in providing essential services in the community — “to the health care, manufacturing, construction, grocery, police, fire, transportation, farmers and agri-business and all other essential services employees we have come to take for granted, a huge shout out and thank you for all you do.”


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