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Local family's business switches gears to make plexiglass shields for cashiers

Through their company Building Envelope Systems Installation, a couple with a part-time home in Collingwood hopes to help smaller essential businesses stay open safely through the pandemic
Empire Co. Ltd., which operates more than 1,500 owned or franchised stores across all 10 provinces, as well as more than 350 retail fuel locations, plans to install plexiglass shields at cashier counters to better protect staff. Stock image

Empire Co. Ltd., which owns and operates the retail banners Sobeys, Safeway, Foodland and FreshCo, announced last week that it will be installing plexiglass shields at the checkout counters to better protect their employees and customers.

“Today, we tested plexiglass cashier shields as yet another safeguard to protect our teammates and customers from this terrible coronavirus,” wrote Michael Medline president and CEO of Empire Co Ltd., in a letter to customers released via Twitter.

According to the company, “sneeze shields” have begun being installed in a few select Sobeys locations in Ontario on Thursday last week.

“We’ve looked across the world at best practices and these shields stand out as a strong safety precaution,” Medline continued. “We will work around the clock to get them into our stores. They will not be in every store immediately, but we’ll install them as quickly as we can.”

Empire Co. Ltd. operates more than 1,500 owned or franchised stores across all 10 provinces, as well as more than 350 retail fuel locations.

PC Optimum stores, which include the Loblaws chains, also announced they would be installing plexiglass shields for the checkout counters.

While this additional protection will soon find its way to your local supermarket, a family of six with ties to Collingwood, is trying to fill the need for those stores not under the wing of a large parent company.

Alex Shikhman and his wife Evelina Gutenberg, who live part-time in Collingwood and operate Building Envelope Systems Installations (BESI), a qualified commercial glass installation company, saw an opportunity where they thought their company could help.

“Our work does have some potential to continue but because our staff are so well trained and able to switch gears quickly, we decided to try and fill this need and do our part to help flatten the curve,” says Gutenberg. “I know some companies have started to take the leap to put these sneeze guards up, like Sobeys, but a lot of the smaller companies are not sure what their options for something like this could be. We are trying to work with those Mom and Pop shops, because they need to survive this crazy time just as much, if not more, than these large companies.”

Gutenberg says that until last week BESI had never manufactured or installed anything like this but, she says it was an easy transition for BESI’s staff.

“We have our staff working extended hours and we are doing shift work to try and get as many people in as quickly as possible. We understand the urgency in this matter,” she says.

Since transitioning to installing these plexiglass shields late last week, BESI has seen overwhelming demand and says both the public and businesses want to see these in place as soon as possible.

“These businesses are going to need to continue to operate. People need to get groceries, need to get gas, and the banks need to keep functioning. We really want to do our part to help keep these essential industries operating while minimizing the risk to the staff and customers,” Gutenberg added.

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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