A Zabar’s Employee Died From Covid-19, Report Says

A longtime Zabar’s employee has died of Covid-19, according to a report in The Atlantic, which made a video about workers in the store. The worker had been at Zabar’s for 32 years, according to the union the person belonged to.

The employee’s death was not confirmed by Zabar’s and they declined to comment to The Atlantic. We’ve also reached out to the store for more information.

The video is about how workers are trying to stay safe as they serve customers — protecting themselves and keeping West Siders well-fed. The part about the worker who died is at the end of the video, and the worker’s name was not mentioned. It was confirmed to The Atlantic by employees and the union.

Daniel Lombroso, a producer on the video, said he thinks this is the first confirmed death of a grocery store worker in the city.

See the full video below.

NEWS | 75 comments | permalink
    1. UWSHebro says:

      sure makes sense to me, force the lowest paid people to work when many are uninsured or have bad plans, and work in high exposure jobs where we all come into contact with them or the products they handle. Nice job, capitalism and greed.

      • Boris says:

        It’s a cheap shot to spew buzz words like capitalism and greed in an article about someone’s death. No one forced this long-time employee to work. What role did his union play in protecting its members? I’m sure he had a decent insurance plan through his union (if he wasn’t already on Medicare) so why generalize without knowing the facts? Your hatred for a system that works very well for most makes it transparent that financial success has left you behind and you’re bitter at the haves.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          he’s likely a miserable Bernie bro who can’t even come up with his own screen name, instead takes mine and adjusts it to amuse himself.

        • Jodi says:

          This is ridiculous. Everyone worker in there should be getting hazard pay, unlimited time sick time due to COVID-19, and immediate access to healthcare. This is not only a public health issue, it is social issue. Frontline workers are underpaid and primarily people of color. The communities hit hardest by this disease are working class neighborhoods predominately of color. Open your eyes to racial and class dynamics of of how this disease has impacted our city. All you have to do is look at Zabars. What is Zabars doing? Zabars management needs to DO MORE to address health and safety issues immediately. Condolences to the family of the worker that passed away. Their death was preventable.

      • Please leave says:

        You know nothing of how Zabar is run. Many of the people who work there are in the union. Learn the facts before you go on an ignorant rant.

      • Realist says:

        Others have already reacted, but I cannot let this pass-over (:-0):

        Re; “force the lowest paid people to work….”
        Q: Exactly WHO is forcing people to work?
        A: No one!

        Q: So why, then, do they work?
        1. They need to bring home a pay-check;
        2. They are loyal to their employer;
        3. They’re proud of the JOB they do.

        Re: “Nice job, capitalism and greed.”
        Yup, Free Markets BAD, Communism GOOD. Sure, just ask Venezuelans, rural Cubans, Russians and East Germans who recall the days of empty store-shelves, etc.

        • Helen says:

          Thank you. WELL SAID!!!

        • Scrat Mandoo says:

          In response to: “Re: ‘Nice job, capitalism and greed.’
          Yup, Free Markets BAD, Communism GOOD. Sure, just ask Venezuelans, rural Cubans, Russians and East Germans who recall the days of empty store-shelves, etc.”

          While you correctly provided four reasonable examples of communism, the system that you dislike and that most people here are alluding to is probably a mix of capitalism and SOCIALISM. Socialism is not the same as communism, and socialism is actually already ingrained in may parts of our society (e.g. police departments, fire departments, utilities, etc.).

          Additionally, health care and consumer package goods are hardly comparable, as they are affected by different market forces.

          I am all for constructive, well-reasoned discussions on this site, but please try to stick to facts and relevant arguments.

          • james brummel says:

            well put Scott and thanks for not hiding behind an alias. easy to talk big when not accountable.

      • James brummel says:

        (I was UWSHebro)
        1) Who brought up communism? Not me.
        2) These workers will not qualify for unemployment if there is a job for them and they quit. They are being forced to make a choice– work in a hazardous place or get nothing. Not a choice. Criminal. And they lose their insurance IF THEY HAVE ANY.
        3) This threatens all of us. Supermarkets, drugs stores etc are locus points for the spread. They must be rigorously controlled.

    2. UWSHebrew says:

      Oh no. There is a white haired senior citizen, friendly to everyone, even the demanding and obnoxious types, who works the prepared foods counter. He told me he’s been working there for decades when I chatted him up years ago. I hope it’s not him.

      • Debra says:

        I know who you mean and I agree. He has always been
        kind and friendly to me. So sad for whoever it is, but he is a very nice man.

    3. Carlos says:

      I am very sorry to hear of this person’s passing. My condolences to their friends and family.

      That being said, if they were working at Zabar’s while sick, Zabar’s really has/had an obligation to try to notify its customers that they might have been exposed. Countless people pass through Zabar’s daily so it is impossible to reach out to them all, but a sign or something would be helpful.

      • Chrigid says:

        credit-card records?

        • Boris says:

          That’s an incredibly unworkable and useless idea. I’m not a personal privacy worrywart, but the risk/reward ratio of combing through credit card data and turning that over to either government or a 3rd party notifier points to serious issues. What would anyone do differently if they found out that an employee was sick? Unless they tested negative and had no further contact with others, everyone should already behave around others as if they are infected.

    4. Sarah Durkee says:

      This young father has such a beautiful soul. There are no adequate words of thanks for how hard grocery employees are working to keep New Yorkers fed. Very moving video, so glad it was made.

      • es10024 says:

        Agreed, Sarah. Hope you and your family are safe and well. ~Liz (Jacob’s mom – I don’t have your email or phone any more, but I think I gave you mine when I ran into you at Broadway Farms.)

    5. Stephanie says:

      Is there a go fund me for the family?

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      This is very sad news. I’ve been shopping at Zabar’s for 50 years, including two days ago. The staff I’ve dealt with–cashiers, workers at the smoked fish and cheese counters, managers, everyone–have always been terrific. I wish all of them good health at this terrible time as they mourn their colleague and surely worry about their safety.

    7. Charles says:

      This is the saddest story and most personable for me. This pandemic has brought out the most heroic and the very best in people. But surprisingly, and most horrifying, the WORST in people also., refusing to wear masks, distancing, not staying at home if not necessary. And treating others badly. This will be a psychological study of why in the future.

    8. DJay says:

      As someone who often frequents the Zabar’s Cafe (3-4 times a week pre-COVID, and intermittently today to support their business), this is heartbreaking.

      Those employees have kept being frontline servers for the rest of us who need that occasional coffee or bagel, still. Deepest condolences to this employee’s family and loved ones and salute to all the staff there who continue to serve to keep the neighborhood going in these terribly challenging times.

      • jenn says:

        I would avoid zabars, it has not done all it can to protect us or its workers. I flipped out on them last week, but still, no real care, it is lax.

        • Matt H says:

          I have to agree on this. I was there a bit 6 days ago and they had the worst social distancing I’ve seen in an NYC grocery store. And that’s saying something.

          Part of this was really down to the customers not being mindful (and considering the demographic, do they ALL WANNA DIE or something?), but there was more the management could have done to encourage good behavior, absolutely.

          I’m personally gonna stay away until the infection rate is somewhere below 50 daily citywide.

    9. lynn says:

      That was a very distressing video and it really hit home because I have family members who are going through the same thing in another state. My brother is an essential worker and his wife is a nurse in the ER. It’s fairly calm where they are now and they have no idea what’s coming their way.

      Condolences to the family and friends of the worker who died. I don’t think it specifically said that he was on the job while he was sick. If that was the case then Zabar’s surely would have shut down to sanitize the store at some point.

      I personally knew a building employee who worked for 23 years and he recently retired and he just died from the virus. You can only do what’s necessary to protect yourself but you just never know. Just very sad all around.

    10. NYYgirl says:

      I hav been shopping at Zabar’s for more than 32 years, and I am so very sad to hear this. I would like to know who it is in order to give condolences and hopefully be able to contribute to a fund for his/her family. Please WSR if more information becomes available, please pass it along. Many thanks. 🙁

    11. Marci says:

      My heart goes out to the person who died, and to all the people who work in stores during this pandemic. I love Zabar’s but stopped going three several weeks ago because it’s so tight and narrow inside that people were right on top of each other. At that point, they weren’t limiting how many customers could be in at a time, which they’ve been doing now. I see the line everyday, so maybe it’s better now?

      • DEE says:

        They did not close down after he died. Who did he contact? His wife works there too. Who in the kitchen has it, or who has it who is handling fresh food, stocking shelves with no gloves on? Did they sterilize the place..NO THEY DID NOT. The lack of care, lack of hygiene, lack of space, lack of creativity with making wider isles, not enforcing masks on shoppers, is all the blood on the hands of the managers. Mark and saul have blood on their hands-they did not protect billy or the store, or the shoppers, many of whom are very old. SHAME ON ZABAR’S-YOU DID WAY TOO LITTLE WAY TO LATE AND IT IS STILL NOT ENOUGH.

        • Novelist says:

          I have been a client of Zabar’s for close to 40 years and the store has always had its ups and downs regarding customer service, obviously more ups.

          Since the beginning of this crisis I find their attitude abominable and sooo different from that of most front line places such as food stores, pharmacies and the like, where the response has overwhelmingly been wonderful to clients. It is true that crisis in NYC (think of 9/11), often bring the best in people and a sense of camaraderie, friendship and mutual help between customers and staff, probably nowhere more than at Trader Joe’s various branches and nowhere less than at Zabar’s:

          NO senior priority, special line or hours.
          Extremely rude turning away (by a manager) of an elderly man who arrived at 4.58 and did not know that the store closed at 5 PM during these special times. It was not me, I was actually walking out of the store, but I saw and heard the whole scene. It was not 5 PM. A couple of other unpleasantnesses happened too.

          My heart goes out to the family of the employee who died, I suspect I know who he was, but I find completely unacceptable that the store did not close and completely sanitize its shelves and products, something that Trader Joe’s now does regularly, store by store, closing an entire day. (and no I do not work for Trader Joe’s nor have a vested interest in them).

          I read these comments and write this one as I returned an hour ago from shopping at Zabar’s, and looked for a place to post this negative remark as Zabar’s attitude has shocked me several times this month.

          Personally, I have been Cloroxing all containers and food wrappings for the past 3 weeks, so I do not feel in a particular danger, but I know that not everybody does it. People have been placed in danger’s way.

          I shall now stay away from Zabar’s for the duration of this crisis and possibly longer… much longer.

    12. jennifer says:

      i SPOKE TO mARK 2 WEEKS AGO ABOUT DOING A BETTER JOB OF PROTECTING US AND THEMSELVES. i GOT AN ARROGANT ANSWER. tHEY HAD NO SOCIAL DISTANCE IN PLACE, NO MAKS, GLOVES, OR PLEXIGLASS, AND THEY ALLOWED IT TO BE JAM PACKED. dUANE READ HAD ALL OF THAT AND MORE, BUT MARK SAID…OH, WELL WE ARE A SMALL STORE AND WE ARE ESPECIALLY. All i got was arrogance and a complete lack of concern. I also saw the owner of zabar’s hugging people outside without masks, and they stood in a close huddle talking, then he went right back to the kitchen, to infect the place.

    13. Mark Moore says:

      I’ve been stopping in Zabar’s about once a week for those pre-wrapped bagels with the cream cheese and lox on them, the ones with the olive in the center. I go into the cafe on the corner, which is always empty, grab two and then toss a $20 to the cashier from a few feet away. The line for the regular store was around the block the other day.

      • Bob Lamm says:

        For people who love Zabar’s: I’ve been on the “line around the block” and it doesn’t take all that long. In my three times on that line, it’s been five to 10 minutes.

      • Novelist says:

        Well, the cafe is now closed.

    14. Judith Schwarz says:

      thank you…this is heart warming…i am a long time shopper at Zabars & so value their presence in our neighborhood…i am so sorry to hear that there might be a death among the staff…

    15. UWSDrew says:

      Side note – I just noticed the CVS at 77th and Broadway is setup so the the pharmacy pick-up line backs up into the cold and flu medicine isle!

      Are you kidding me? Even before this pandemic that’s a really bad layout idea. Now as people stand their 6 feet apart they are all the way down this isle which naturally is going to bring people who have symptoms and need meds!.

      I’m not saying I have all the answers here but clearly this needs to be changed.

      • Boris says:

        Shouldn’t you be suggesting that to the CVS manager? No one reading the WSR can change the layout of the CVS so I don’t understand the need to slam them here. Everything is not an outrage.

    16. JEN says:

      They should close down, clean, and quarantine all staff. They act as if nothing happenend. SHAME ON THEM.

    17. Fannie says:

      I have so much respect for workers anyway, but during this pandemic I respect them even more. This is a good story to tell right now. I am surprised at the hateful/negative comments.

      • Boris says:

        Do you really think Zabars’ employees are working because they care so much about others? I don’t feel that anyone is actually working through these times because of their altruistic need to help others. They work for the money it puts in their pockets.

        The problem is not a lack of respect for workers but that little by little, everyone becomes a hero. That diminishes the real meaning of being a hero.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          Bottom line Boris is THEY ARE RISKING THEIR HEALTH TO FEED US. Are you? Nah, you’re watching Netflix.

          • Boris says:

            Yes, I am happily at home watching Netflix but that’s irrelevant to your argument unless you’re into comparative analysis of people’s motivations and actions. I doubt you’re up to the scientific challenges of doing that.

            As far as the risks they’re taking (which can be significantly mitigated) for which hero status would be conferred, your logic is flawed.

            The motivation for the risks they take should be evaluated not in terms of what they do to FEED US but what they do to FEED THEMSELVES. If the latter is the more significant reason, then the hero factor diminishes. No one is saying that they’re not doing something that benefits those of us who don’t take the same risks. But it can’t be ignored that they primarily have their own interests in mind.

            • young_man! says:

              Bravo Boris. Well said.

            • JAH says:

              So Boris, by your reasoning only volunteers can be heroes? Doctors, nurses, police firefighters and EMS all get paid so I guess none of them are heroes?

            • Boris says:

              @JAH – I think you should ask someone else to explain what I wrote because this has nothing to do with whether someone gets paid or not. What makes someone a hero depends on their primary motivation for taking certain actions that benefit others, too. Just because others benefit from those actions doesn’t make that person a hero. I don’t know where you came up with the volunteer tangent but it’s not very well thought out.

        • James brummel says:

          Boris said “They work for the money it puts in their pockets.”

          No, they work to feed themselves and pay rent and stuff. Their choice is work or nothing, since they can’t get unemployemnt if they quit.

          Outrageous and inhumane.

    18. Steevie says:

      I have gone into Zabars and been surprised at how crowded it was. You are better off going into crummy grocery stores that have no reputation whatsoever. They have most of the same stuff and many fewer people inside.

    19. Diane says:

      Not surprised and very sad about this. I was in Zabars last week. There were MANY customers shopping without masks. I believe the checkout folks were protected but not all workers in the store were wearing masks. Not sure what took so long for the De blasio / Cuomo dictate no one goes in a store without a mask. Keyfood on Amsterdam has not only been limiting people shopping, but giving out gloves! WHY HAS Zabars been so slow in enforcing the safety of their employees and customers? FOR THE LIFE OF ME – I cannot believe how many people I still see walking around without masks and congregating. I see families where one adult has a mask and the other doesn’t, The kids don’t – running around, possible carriers. I see elderly people WITHOUT masks in front of the Atria, in the park, walking. I see young people running and biking and just walking in the street without masks. Maybe some of these folks have no means to get them. Why aren’t we handing out Free masks to people? Why aren’t we mandating that all employers who have essential workers be giving them the protection they need? What is going on here?

      • Giovanni says:

        Believe me, if you can afford to shop at Zabar’s you can afford to get a mask and gloves. Zabar’s makes millions of dollars a year so it’s hard to understand why they wont’ even put a few dollars into the safety of their employees and customers.

        I refuse to go into that cramped little store until there is a vaccine. Why anyone thinks they have to jam into Zabar’s just to get food shows how addicted people are to the routines and to their favorite brands.

        At least a dozen employees at Trader Joes have been infected, and one who worked in the Scarsdale store died. It’s a similar situation with overcrowded stores and no way to keep your distance from anyone. Nationwide, over 40 grocery store employees have does already. When will Zabar’s and others start to take this more seriously?

    20. N says:

      Zabars should have responded about the employee who passed away. They could have kept his name private but why not just be open?

    21. joseph hanania says:

      I no longer live on the UWS, but frequently visit. One big draw: the countermen (people?) at Zabar’s deli counter. They always seem upbeat, interesting, and a little non-conformist. (Ie., they will tell you what they really think). Since many of them come from outside the neighborhood, I have wondered how Zabar’s recruited this motley and diverse crew.
      That said, I thought this historic – and expensive – food emporium was taking steps to protect them, like they do their foods under plastic wrappings, etc. Perhaps it is impossible to fully do so, but this worker’s death is truly tragic.

      • Chris w says:

        I’ve seen the same counter people at Zabar’s for decades. It makes sense they treat employees well and that they are loyal to their workers for that kind of long relationship vs fairway were I see different faces every week. I also hear that zabars is a great landlord to the little indie shops in the neighborhood so if you don’t know anything then kindly stfu

    22. Barbra says:

      So very sorry about the loss of your colleague. Please stay safe! This is terrible sad, and these are not the ones who can safely stay at home & order in.

    23. Heike Schilling says:

      I pray for Zabar’s to keep going, I live on the same street and depend on it. Have not been able to buy bread in the last 2 days, coming out too late and lines of people… I moved into the area in Dec.1986!

    24. UWS Mom says:

      The AFL-CIO website mentions the late Zabar’s employee together with other union members who have lost their lives in this terrible pandemic.


    25. Josefina says:

      Thank you for the story. Es importante ver la cara de nuestra humanidad

    26. EB says:

      Zabar’s is a wonderful store and I am glad that they’ve stayed open and have such a wide variety of foodstuffs. If you’re unhappy about their social distancing and other behaviors during this time, there’s a simple solution–don’t patronize them. Obviously you complainers have way too much time on your hands, writing these rants. I am very sorry for the death of the employee, but since we don’t know the circumstances it is pretty ridiculous to blame Zabar’s.

    27. Dolores Del Río says:

      This employee worked at Zabar’s 32 years, so presumably he had a happy relationship with them. There was an article in the Times a few years ago about an octogenarian lox slicer who had retired to North Carolina but flew back every December to work the holiday rush. This is place is a treasure.

    28. Cathy says:

      All the workers -/ Zabars’ most certainly — out in the world today, out in aNYC — deserve raises
      or bonuses, huge kudos and our deepest thanks, recognition and gratitude. They are true hero’s!

    29. Carol says:

      Agree that Zabars is a wonderful store with caring employees. However, I, too, inquired why employees were not wearing gloves. The response was “because we don’t have too.” This was a week ago.

    30. Iris says:

      I was at the store on Friday and I sensed something was not right. They have now shortened their hours and they are cooking only once a day and had little stock.

      There was just an air about the place that something
      was not right.

      If the man who died at the end is the person at the meat counter I knew him as did every regular. He was a wonderful person and extremely well liked and always offering to help. He was one of the “ gems” of Zabars, now I understand the morose atmosphere

    31. Kenny Botte says:

      Condolences to the family.

    32. Sherri Heitner says:

      I have been shopping regularly at Zabars for 30+ years & have known them to be very careful & high quality with the food preparation.
      Since the pandemic many of the employees were wearing masks & gloves. Their is a person disinfecting the carts after each use. There is disinfecting spray bottles, paper towels & disinfecting wipes available to wipe down carts & containers.
      They started packaging the olives so people were not able to sample or touch the open olive barrels.
      I asked some of the register people at one early point
      in the pandemic why they weren’t wearing masks.
      They said they preferred not. It wasn’t mandatory.
      About 2 weeks ago stiff plastic was installed between the customers & the cashiers.
      The store implemented a policy at the prepared food counter to give your order & return 10 minutes later so people would be able to social distance.
      Also at the same time they started a line to get into the store & only 25 people were allowed to be in the store at a time.
      I am saddened for the employee who is assumed to have died of Covid. It would seem reasonable for Zabars to make a statement about the employees job responsibilities & the relationship to the customers &
      if people were exposed to the risk of the virus.

    33. Sia Sotirakis says:

      At the end of the day, let’s all agree that this is a horrible tragedy any way you look at it. That we feel a tremendous loss and sadness for the worker who died and his family and loved ones. And that we each can continue to do our part to do better, whether it’s wearing masks or social distancing. What a tragic loss of life. These workers–those who show up and stand on their feet and show true character and courage in the midst of a crisis…so we can shop for tasty food…these are real heroes who demand our respect and kindness. Not just during a pandemic but each and every day.

    34. sudden_eyes says:

      This is a beautiful film – and absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t feed my family without these wonderful service workers (and I do thank them!!) but it horrifies me what danger they are in.

    35. Marcia-K says:

      The layout of the interior of the Zabar’s market doesn’t lend itself to allowing for adequate “social distancing”, as it’s divided into three parallel sections. It would be helpful to know whether Zabar’s has been limiting the no. of customers who may have access at one time. This is a critical bit of info, as distancing w/o limiting no. of patrons and supervising the flow of outside line is needed for control..Name calling and attack are the wrong response until all attempts at prevention have been described.

    36. mkmuws says:

      Very sorry to hear this.

      With regard to all the stories about how crowded Zabar’s is, which would be very easy to imagine, and how people are observing these things, and what I keep reading elsewhere from people prioritizing masks over what they should actually be doing…way too many people are grocery shopping way too often and acting like it is justified. Plan better. Do better. Time for sacrifice like the rest of us. This isn’t the time to be doing a weekly pickup of anything. Yes, you will have less fresh food, and more frozen food, and more canned food. Yes occasionally we can all get some fresh food, but we shouldn’t be doing it regularly. If you haven’t figured that out by now, you haven’t gotten it for all these weeks. This all drags out for everyone, including those of us truly cloistered, for longer and longer, due to bad behavior. Listen to the workers’ cries.

    37. Chavez says:

      Not giving comments on that “Zabar’s worker”, a man that gave them 32 YEARS! This shows a lot about this company to not even to say thank you nor show any sympathy towards him. This Zabar’s worker was my uncle, he was an incredible person, hardworking overall and to not be acknowledged is unbelievable. He will surely be missed, not from his workplace (clearly) but from his family and friends! Just to add on, he did love his job and all of his coworkers. He was happy to work there and was grateful to have his job even up to his last couple of days! This is why, them not giving any comments hurts so much! Please people stay indoor and safe!

      • EagleEye says:

        Why are you also hiding your uncle’s identity? Many people on this site would like to know and honor his memory.

    38. William L. Thompson says:

      This made me cry! The courage of our essential works! Thank you a million times!

    39. JS says:

      When I saw employees leaving Zabar’s last night- none of them had masks on, they were not social distancing and here hugging each other goodbye. I told my boyfriend I was shocked they were acting this way while being in close contact with the public all day. They are not even helping themselves stay healthy!

    40. Miriam Hidalgo- Gutierrez says:

      So sad to hear about the employee that passed. I have always enjoyed my shop time at Zabar’s. Always encountered great staff workers.
      Thank you, to everyone for being there for us at a very difficult time.