For many, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a grocery store manager is Mr. Whipple, who, from 1965 to 2000, was the man in more than 500 television commercials who pleaded with customers to not squeeze a particular brand of toilet paper, which, by the way, is challenging to find in the coronavirus era.
Mostly, the only time customers want to talk to, or about, a grocery store manager, is when there is a problem.
But Denise Hahn is an exception.
Hahn is the manager of the Vons store at 600 E. Broadway Ave. in downtown Long Beach and customers are effusive in their praise.
“As we’re moving through this collective crisis, we don’t often get to hear of the everyday heroes,” emailed Lawrence Sanchez, who lives a few blocks from the store. “Denise took it upon herself to start an Instagram account, where they offer day-to-day, and sometimes hour-to-hour, updates on the type of items coming in. They are taking the time to respond to each and everyone’s direct comments and questions through the IG account, as well as taking specific orders for items that people may have. It is a brilliant example of leadership and step-up in time of crisis.”
Hahn has worked for Vons for 32 years, but just 1½ years at the store on Broadway. And it all started with a posting at the Orange Coast College career center.
“I was a theater major at OCC,” she said, “but then I saw that there was a job at Safeway (Vons’ parent company) paying $5.71 per hour, I said to myself, ‘I’m in,’ so what started as a part-time job has become an amazing career.”
Hahn, who has lived in Long Beach for 18 years, is active on social media, so it made sense to her to set up an Instagram account for the store (vonsdtlb).
“I started the account around March 19 or 20 and it came after the thousandth time that someone asked ‘when does the next load come in?’” she said. “I started thinking, I wish there was a way I could post how people could see what we have on the shelves.”
She asked fellow Instagramers to post the fact that the store had its own account and it took off. The account now has almost 1,500 followers.
“I really did not expect that,” Hahn said. “I knew I hit the big time when ads started appearing on the Instagram feed.”
Hahn said she and her assistant Barbie Eschendal usually do one big posting in the morning to show what has come to the store the night before and then a few more times during the day when other items come in.
“It is so much easier to check in and respond to direct messages than taking a call, putting the caller on hold to look at an aisle and then getting back to the phone,” Hahn said.
The biggest pain points for shoppers have been disinfectant wipes and Lysol, followed by toilet paper. And then there are the baking products.
“People have been really baking since everyone is home,” she said, “because I haven’t seen yeast on the shelves in a long time.
“But I have nurses who come in asking for wipes; they are a necessity and they use the Lysol to spray on the bottom of their shoes. That’s why I have been posting every day, ‘No Lysol.’”
The leadership and community cooperation Hahn has displayed stands out in light of what has been a jarring shift in people’s daily activities. For example, one of Hahn’s hobbies is sewing. So, in her spare time what did she do? She sewed masks for her co-workers.
And she certainly doesn’t mask how happy she is to be able to help so many.
“I just want to thank people for all the great comments that they leave me because it does really help me; it makes a difference,” she said choking back tears. “We are on the front line and the store is the only place people can congregate. When we get nice comments and when we talk to you in the store, it means a lot, so keep those messages coming.”