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Deli gets creative in the coronavirus age

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BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Country Deli is finding its place as this community along with the rest of the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

The deli is selling bread to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and serving many of the employees still going to work in the health care industry. It's also mailing care or gift packages and selling raw ingredients such as flour and yeast to local residents looking to bake recipes of their own.

Tracey John, general manager of Vermont Country Deli, said her business is considered a food retailer and is able to stay open as others have been forced to temporarily close in an effort to limit infection of COVID-19.

"We were always to-go and never had any seating; it was always a challenge but maybe now, it's a blessing," she said. "We certainly tried to adjust our offerings to more of what people are looking for. There's certainly less choices because there's less traffic."

The deli is trying to be "a little more practical," John said, acknowledging that it's not a grocery store.

Customers can come in and order food. They can also call ahead and get their order brought out to their car. And efforts are underway to set up online ordering.

Staffing was approximately cut in half as business slowed and concerns over the virus grew. John said some staff decided to leave and others were furloughed. The goal was to keep full-time staff members working.

"Right now, this is week two with this different arrangement," John said Tuesday. "We're trying to stay positive."

With a lot of anxiety being felt in the world right now, she said staff members are listening to customers and bringing a positive attitude to the workplace.

"A sense of humor has certainly helped," she said.

John said nurses have been happy to have somewhere to go to buy lunch before heading back to work.

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"The nursing home, which bought lunch for their staff, was definitely a morale booster here," she said, adding that the facility's manager wanted to support the business.

The deli has always offered wholesale purchases of bread. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought in a new customer.

Gina Pattison, director of development and marketing at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said her group's regular bread distributor limited deliveries in this area after fewer local restaurants required delivery. That has helped to "keep things moving along here," said John.

"We are pleased to be able to support local while providing fresh bread to our patients and employees," Pattison said.

The deli also gets a "big weekly order" from a local business in Vernon, John said, describing it as helpful. She said she's happy to see a lot of people trying to order takeout food a few times a week to help keep establishments going.

For now, Vermont Country Deli isn't looking for any financial assistance.

"Obviously, as things change, we'll assess the situation," John said. "But for the moment, we're OK. We just appreciate the local support."

The plan is to follow any guidance from the state on closures and restrictions. On Wednesday, when a stay-at-home order was issued, John said her business is following guidelines from the governor and encouraging customers to opt for curbside pickup. She applauded Gov. Phil Scott for "doing an amazing job" responding to the coronavirus.

The deli is using social media to spread the word that it's still open for business.

"We're just trying to be creative," John said. "That's something we've been doing a lot of."

At a press conference Wednesday, Scott said, "Vermont small business owners have shown great creativity and flexibility."


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