Appreciate the essential worker, no matter the business



Columnist Colin Horning argues the importance of keeping bis businesses open for essential employees.

COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

Over the course of COVID-19, there has been the debate over the concept of governments closing down certain sectors of the economy in order to prevent the spread of the virus, while at the same time keeping other ones open that they deem to be “essential.” One of the economic industries that was allowed to stay open, (for the most part), was the retail industry.

More specifically, retail chains that sold groceries and other items like toilet paper and diapers. Other retailers, like shoe and clothing stores, had to shut their doors. Of course, this all depended on the orders and measures taken by each specific state government, so there are varying degrees of who was allowed to stay open and who had to close. But virtually across the board, large retailers like Walmart, Target and Costco were allowed to stay open and conduct business as usual. These stores offer people everything that they need, especially in times of economic uncertainty such as the last 10 months or so. But soon after COVID-19 swept through, the debate began over how it was ethical for billion-dollar retailers to stay open while thousands of small businesses had to close down, and in some cases close down for good. I’m not here to debate this specific issue over which businesses should have been allowed to open. Rather, it’s the rhetoric and messages surrounding this issue from prominent political figures that I want to cover.

For context, I currently work in retail and I have worked in retail since I was 15 years old. I started working at Hy-Vee in high school and now work at Target up in Cedar Falls. During the initial quarantine period for COVID-19 last spring was when I started working at Target. Being one of the largest retailers in the world, Target was deemed an “essential” business and was allowed to stay open during the pandemic and conducted business as usual, in a relative sense of course. The same goes for places like Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Hy-Vee and basically every other brick and mortar store. It didn’t take long for people to begin to take issue with this. On Dec. 5, social media influencer Rogan O’Handley, who has over 365 thousand Twitter followers and over 1 million Instagram followers sent out the tweet: “Crazy idea: Let’s shutdown Walmart, Amazon, and Uber Eats in this next round of lockdowns and only allow small businesses to be ‘essential’ I know…crazy.” Other influencers, on both the right and left sides of the aisle, showed similar support for such an idea: closing down massively large retailers and letting small businesses stay open. Don’t get me wrong –  many small businesses definitely got the short end of the stick when things had to close down. The fact that anyone would think closing down Walmart or Amazon would be a good idea is beyond me.

I get the concept of what these people are trying to say. Walmart, Target, Costco and Amazon all had record-high stock prices in 2020 and profited handsomely over being able to remain open during COVID-19. But to suggest closing down these companies would have massive ramifications that would only cause more economic peril for millions of hard-working people. Let’s take three companies for example: Walmart, Costco and Target. Those three retailers have a combined 2.1 million employees as of the year 2020. Having worked in retail for almost six years, I can confidently say that retail workers are some of the most diligent and hard-working people that I have ever met. They work long hours, overnight shifts and have to oftentimes work on weekends and holidays when most people have off of work. The pandemic was no exception to this. Retail workers were asked to put themselves on the frontlines during a global pandemic in order to ensure that the rest of the population was able to get the items they needed during times of extreme uncertainty. The people I work with show up to the store long before the sun rises in the morning and make sure the shelves are stocked with basic necessities for other people. So, when I see people suggesting that these companies need to shut their doors, let’s just say it doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

Myself and millions of other hard-working people happen to work for a billion-dollar retail chain that was able to remain open during a pandemic. We shouldn’t be punished for that, nor should anyone else be based on where they chose to work. In fact, these massive retail chains were able to succeed during COVID-19 because of their frontline workers who worked day in and day out and made sure that everything was promptly received and stocked for the rest of the populous to be able to purchase. I’m confident that most of the people calling for these types of businesses to shut down have never worked a day of retail in their lives, because if they had, they would grow to appreciate the millions of hard-working American that they seem to take for granted on a daily basis.