Covid Cases Raise Concern at Local Trader Joe’s; Company Brings in Special Cleaning Crew

Covid cases among employees at the Trader Joe’s on 93rd Street and Columbus Avenue have raised concerns among the staff, according to a report in Gothamist. Trader Joe’s confirmed to West Side Rag that there have been cases at the store but added that the company believes that Covid is not spreading at the store.

The Gothamist piece detailed concerns among employees at multiple New York City locations about the company’s practices in regards to Covid-19, including claims that social distancing and mask-wearing is not adequately enforced among customers and that “the stores are no longer adequately cleaned.” The company responded to Gothamist by saying “we have prioritized creating a safe working and shopping environment every day, developing and implementing procedures that meet and exceed recommendations from the CDC and health officials.”

At the 93rd store in particular, an employee told Gothamist that multiple staff members had come down with the virus.

One Upper West Side employee said that at least four of their coworkers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

“It clearly has been circulating within the crew,” said the employee, who asked to withhold their name for fear of reprisal. “If I were in charge, the only morally defensible option would be to shut down the store, get everyone get rapid tested and only let people back who get negative tests.”

Asked whether the claims were accurate and whether the company had considered closing that store (as occurred previously after positive cases), a Trader Joe’s spokesperson sent the following statement to West Side Rag:

While we have had some cases at our Upper West Side Store, the positive case rate at this location is below the average rate of positive cases in this community. In each case, all Crew Members in the store were notified of the positive case. Any crew member who had close contact with the person who tested positive was identified, directed to quarantine, and encouraged to get tested. All of those tests came back negative, affirming our belief that the spread is not taking place inside the store. However, out of an abundance of caution, we have had an outside cleaning crew brought in to thoroughly clean the store. These cleanings are in addition to hourly cleanings of high touch point areas in the store.

Staff members at that store had responded appreciatively to Upper West Siders when they clapped for essential workers earlier in the pandemic.

NEWS | 58 comments | permalink
    1. Gongalu says:

      Trader Joe’s on Broadway at 71st has been very good about limiting the number of customers allowed at a time, and customers have been very good about mask-wearing and keeping as much of distance from others as possible. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Fairway on Broadway at 74th. Too many people are in the store at the same time, I have spotted many instances of customers either not wearing masks or not wearing masks correctly, and social distancing protocols are completely disregarded. It has made for many miserable shopping experiences.

      • Cj berk says:

        You are right, Fairway on Broadway is miserable on so many levels. The piles of merchandise all along the sidewalk for hours waiting to be moved into the store have brought out rats and bugs. Its an unsightly mess. Making our entire sidewalk into their loading dock is causing unnecessary crowding, dangerous walking, and unhealthy garbage all over the street. When Shop Rite took over, we were hoping for an improved store. This is an eyesore and yet another reason why so many other stores in our neighborhood remain vacant. No one wants to risk being near this. It can’t be legal in NYC to do this. You don’t see it in front of Westside Market or Morton Williams or Zabars or even Trader Joe. Shop Rite has added to the decline/decay and general disrespect of our neighborhood. Calling 311-maybe that will help. Also Linda Rosenthal? Thank you.

        • Juan says:

          Why don’t they hire some of the new homeless men in our neighborhood hotels at minimum wage to help get the merchandise off the street and into the store more quickly? This way the sidewalks won’t be blocked, the shelves get stocked quicker, and jobs are created.

          Fairway’s owners don’t have any incentive to spend the extra money to do this so it isn’t going to happen, but it is worth a suggestion.

        • Lisa says:

          I actually think Fairway is the safest place to shop on the Upper West Side, for three reasons: It has excellent ventilation because the huge entrance is always open to the outdoors; it is very easy to get in and out with your items in less than 10 minutes so your total time indoors is minimal; and the store has a relatively small footprint so it’s easy to make a “surgical strike” if you are familiar with the layout. Plus, it has the fastest checkout of any grocery store on the UWS (Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are a nightmare).

        • DH says:

          YES. Fairway is horrible for all the reasons you state. And no one seems to care! I’ve shopped there for decades. No more. And no Trader Joe’s either.
          I’m sticking to Pioneer on Columbus/73rd-74th.

      • JS says:

        My experiences at Fairway have been fine.
        And some benefit in that with open doors, air can get in.

        Trader Joe’s seems especially claustrophobic these days unfortunately.
        And if Fairway were to close, TJ’s would be even busier….

        And of note, at two other food markets, quite a few people bringing in dogs though not permitted and adding to the social distancing stress…

        • Dresden says:

          Every time I go into a store with my trained service dog ‘someone’ has a fit and starts accusing me. Likely that could be you?

          • Jerry says:

            Trained service dogs are (usually) very easy to distinguish from “emotional support animals,” which rarely (if ever) are specially trained and are of a classification that has been terribly abused by pet owners, to the point of stirring a backlash.

    2. buddy says:

      wish them well

    3. Carol mills says:

      I know that many employees have their masks below the nose and keep falling down

    4. CovidBlues says:

      Two times I complained to a staff member how one specific employee (directing the line to cashiers), wore a thin cloth mask over his nose, with the straps on the bottom loose, so every time he breathed, it all came out under his chin. When he coughed or sneezed, he would spray it all in the store. I was never taken seriously.

    5. Eileen Gordon says:

      I shopped at Trader Joe’s on Columbus Avenue about two months ago. My first time there since February 2020. I will never shop there again. Employees had masks around their necks as they walked around the store munching on whatever they were eating. Many shoppers had their masks off or half on. No enforcement of social distancing of shoppers by employees. Not surprised COVID is there. Shame on Trader Joe’s for being so lax.

      • Ponald J. Plump says:

        Fascinating. I am there twice a week and have never observed this.

        • Jo says:

          Me either. Haven’t been there for a few weeks but I felt comfortable. I appreciate limiting the number of customers and the arrows on the floor (although not every single person is good about following that.) Mask usage is as good or better than anywhere else.

          • RL says:

            yep. shop there at least once a week – they do an overly zealous job if anything in limiting numbers in the store and have never seen anyone not wearing a mask. Whole foods on the other hand was a Thanksgiving nightmare with the hoards of people.
            In general though, it stands to reason that someone in any workplace that is dealing with the public is going to get sick – it depends on how the company deals with it that is the important factor.

    6. chris says:

      True! Fairway was shocking. I had to leave.
      So packed it was impossible to walk.
      TJ on 72 and Bway is always great.
      Never saw anyone without a mask and it is never crowded. Even the line which goes around and down the block is very orderly with 6 foot spacing.

    7. RPWC says:

      93rd street store employees have been very conscientious whenever I’m there.
      Some customers are not considerate And don’t wear a mask properly.
      A group of us also had an argument with an anti-masker standing near us while waiting in line. The staff gave them a mask and would not allow them in the store.
      Some local people just don’t care about others.

    8. Michele Perez says:

      I have been there many times and recently have felt very unsafe. Lots of customers without masks covering their noses. Too many people in the store at one time.
      Won’t go back for a while.

      • charles becker says:

        My guess is you will go back as soon as favorite items are used up in your house. Best is to stock up just to avoid wasting time on lines in the future.

    9. William Porto says:

      When I was at the 93rd TJs about a week ago, the checkout line inside the store was back to it’s usual long queue.

      Sure, they’re limiting the number of people who can come in, but whereas during the height of the pandemic they insured that they would only let in enough people to prevent lines, now it seems much more haphazard.

      Same goes for Whole Foods which is doing an even worse job with distancing, having several employees constantly picking up items for delivery, some with their masks half-on.

      But it isn’t just these chains that are doing this – The West Side Market at 110th has also become lax. They have signs out but arent fastidious with mask rules, nor are they promoting social distancing.

      • Richard says:

        The reason the in-store line at the 93rd Street store seems so long is that the store was reconfigured to have only one checkout line instead of three. So the length of the line does not really reflect an increased number of people in the store.

        • EBPUWS says:

          For the record — the TJs at Columbus and 93rd was reconfigured a DIFFERENT way that is the OPPOSITE of what was described above – and I think is pretty effective. Within the last week I’ve been there twice, most recently Sunday, Nov. 29th. They relocated another line of 3-4 cash registers into what was formerly the checkout area waiting line inside the store, and eliminated the interior wait area. Once ready to check out I didn’t even have to wait at all, but was sent right to a cashier station. They recognized that moving people more quickly out of the store was a way to allow others in more quickly. They are still regulating the numbers who enter and I have seen every customer and employee complying with the mask requirements. I wipe the handles of any cart of basket I use myself (they have wipes available for that). There is no way really to reduce the exterior wait time, so we’ll have to live with that all winter…

          • EBPUWS says:

            To clarify – I am not disagreeing with Richard (above). Now there is only one input to the cash registers, but it takes you to 3 lines of cash register stations instead of two, so the moving out was faster. I experienced having no wait when ready to check out but I can’t determine what would cause that if (presumably) the customer # limit is the same at all times… the real variable may be how many cashiers are on duty at one time… maybe I was just lucky!

    10. Stephanie Reit says:

      I spoke to the manager on several occasions about their employees not properly weaing their masks. He did not seem interested and did not get up to check out these individuals.

      • DJ says:

        Probably because many of the staff are risking their lives and doing their best to serve the neighborhood. Are they mistake free? No, but given the circumstances, a little more grace is needed.

    11. Susan says:

      The customers and staff at Fairway have always treated each other without a shred of respect. The place is always dirty and customers freely graze on the food.
      This rude behavior has not improved during the pandemic. Now it is not simply unpleasant, but because of Covid it is downright dangerous!

      Sadly, other decent nearby West Side options have closed over the past few years. Westside Market and Food Emporium to name a couple of them.

    12. Bored customer says:

      My weekly visits to Trader Joe’s have been something to look forward to during this dreary time.
      But recently, the 40 minute line outside the store has become ridiculous. I simply don’t understand why the store managers don’t start implementing a pickup or delivery service. Even only for a limited amount of products that are always in stock. If we could order online and pick up the order from a table outside the store it could shorten the lines and reduce the exposure of the workers.

      • Huh says:

        Trader Joe’s is a chain so store managers can’t just decide to implement policies. It would also involve hiring more people to shop so that’s not so simple either

      • Mark Moore says:

        If you can go after 8PM or when it’s raining. No line.

    13. Marcia Kaye says:

      I’ve been in a couple of stores on the UWS, including Fairway at night, when staff attempted to convince a customer that he couldn’t have his bike in the store. He was as firm as I think he’s allowed to be. I’ve also been on hand when a couple of shoppers were given masks because they weren’t wearing any. It’s a frontline job for store employees to confront and deal w/ offending shoppers.

      • charles becker says:

        Your assessment is correct. That is why Trader Joe’s employees directing traffic into the store have a security guard standing next to them.

    14. Leslie says:

      Just recently Trader Joe’s did a huge hiring right before
      Thanksgiving for the holidays. At their 72nd store which has the largest foot traffic in the nation I have at times been able to walk in with no one at the front entrance monitoring the number of people. Once I got concerned as their check out line snaked around to the produce there was no way to keep any distance and the response to me was “ this is our busiest time of the year’. No concern. They are better here. Their managers do work the store and now are more careful on limiting people. I think this new wave of hiring had an effect. Too many employees were also in the store at once I noticed as well.

      • Donna says:

        This is going to happen at a store that is known for keeping customers on lines both in and out of its store.

        Trader Joe’s needs to get with the program and install self checkout. Cashier’s are nice to visit but not during a time of physical distancing.

        Whole Foods up the block recently installed self checkout!! The best decision and timely too!

    15. Anonymous Anonymous says:

      Three weeks ago I arrived at the 93rd street store at 730 am to wait for them to open. I saw 3 employees inside without masks talking closely with each other while setting up. I left and went to Whole Foods instead. No way I was going in there after seeing that. Called the store an hour later and asked if they require employees to wear masks when the store is closed. I was told, “ we are trying”.

      • Jo says:

        No store is perfect. In my observation, Whole Foods (and others) are worse. The customers do a better job with masking than the staff. Have to get food somewhere, though.

    16. Brenda says:

      I’ve never understood the deep cleaning (in the subway or other places). It’s an airborne disease. If the employees are wearing well-fitted masks over their nose and mouth at all times and washing their hands frequently that seems the only precautions that can be taken.

    17. Suzanne says:

      I live in Wmbrg, VA & our Trader’s here has/is done a wonderful job of cleaning. They also enforce maska & set up social distancing well. I hope these cases slow in NY because we couldn’t be more impressed about how they are handling it here. A great company w/ wonderful people.

    18. Disappointed Upper Westsider says:

      Just another reason not to shop at Trader Joe’s. There is absolutely nothing that they sell that can’t be bought somewhere else. Waiting on line for 40 minutes is absurd. I have not been in any of their stores since March and have no plans to go back there any time soon.
      Regarding Fair Way, I guess I have been lucky that the times I shop there the store is not over crowded. I am sorry to say that the people I have seen not wearing their masks probably have been the older shoppers. When I nicely said to an older man “mask up over your nose” his reply was ‘F Y’!! In the most vile tone of voice….

      • Um... says:

        Trader Joe’s literally has their own branded goods of all different types that you can only purchase at Trader Joe’s

    19. Peter Brandt says:

      I think taking staff temperatures as they come in to work …is a must !

    20. Crew member says:

      I work for Trader Joe’s In Nashua NH and the screening is a joke, the thermometer has never read accurately. Cleaning is sporadic, customers walk around w masks half off, distance reminders are never enforced. We are discouraged from reminding customers. Sales is the one and only priority. Sad, I thought integrity meant something here.

    21. Caryn Greenberg says:

      I did notice that they were not consistently wiping the shopping cart handles (I wear gloves). I was annoyed that they were not enforcing the one way direction – customers were not observing/seemed clueless. Lines in checkout were getting longer into the shopping area – defeating the 6 feet separation. They should go back to holding wait lines outside till # of people in store were less.

    22. ST says:

      There has been a panhandler sitting outside the 93rd Street store for many months. She doesn’t wear a mask properly yet the store runs its line right past her. When I spoke to an employee a) about getting her help and b) the mask situation, the response was quite hostile and “Everyone likes her.” (She apparently is not homeless and lives across the street.) That store needs management overhaul.

    23. Marci says:

      My experiences at the 72nd Street Trader Joe’s have been good; limiting the number of shoppers at a time, everyone masked up and social distancing as much as possible. Fairway is another story. What happens to people when they walk into that store? Do their brains take a holiday? And I’m not talking about the attitude everyone adopts which is bad enough; but I mean being on top of one another when it’s completely unnecessary. And their staff is the worst. Try getting at anything in produce without two staff standing together- right next to each other – just talking. The lines to check out? Social distancing? hahahaha! It’s like no one’s ever heard of it.

    24. EGF says:

      This is why I have my groceries delivered these days. There are way too many people in these stores and you have no idea of their safety protocols and those of their social networks. The additional cost of instacart far outweighs the health risk in my opinion.

    25. Jay says:

      How do we know there are any more cases at Tjs than any other grocery or retailer in the city?

      I’m guessing we don’t and this whole story is based on incomplete information or someone with an axe to grind.

    26. Epson says:

      They do enforce mask wearing on customers. There are a few employees who don’t wear mask properly or, sometimes at all, and mgmt is lax in disciplining them. The problem is TJ mgmt doesn’t enforce anything. They strongly suggest but if a customer pushes back, they cave. They don’t seem to realize we’re in a pandemic and NYC is a hotspot.

    27. Hazel Roslyn Feldman says:

      Lower east side Trader Joe’s are careful about maintaining crowd control and mask wearing is essential. Staff are wear mask. Every cart is wiped before a customer uses. Checkout lines are spaced appropriately. Staff generally checks that distance is observed.

    28. Jeanne says:

      The homeless girl who has been sitting in the line since March, which they ignore, doesn’t help either I shop at that location 3 times a week, do I need to get tested?

    29. Rich says:

      Trader Joe was a nightmare before covid. It is a fire trap, ridiculously crowded and not a pleasant place to shop. Fortunately we have a car and take a road trip to Wegmans in Montvale NJ to stock up. For small stuff it’s in and out of Fairway or Pioneer as quickly as possible.

      • Mark Moore says:

        We used to drive to Jersey to shop for groceries and then we got tired of spending an entire day driving somewhere to shop for groceries. My time is too valuable for that any more and once you’ve paid gas and tolls you’re not saving much money.

        I really, really miss uptown Fairway and that great parking lot.

        • Boris says:

          There’s a Wegmans in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that’s much closer and less expensive to get to than NJ.

    30. Stephanie says:

      When I reported non compliance of mask wearing to the manager of the 93rd Street Trader Joe, he was uninterested and did not get up to check out my report.

    31. Old Stones says:

      West Sider in exile here, sheltering in Kips Bay. Crowding has always been an issue in both UWS Trader Joe’s. Chain-wide, TJ’s hygiene protocol in the early months of the pandemic quickly made it the safest shopping option, and senior hours offered less crowded shopping in the relatively clean morning air. But about a month ago the Third Ave. store began admitting unprecedentedly large numbers at store opening for (the now reduced) senior hour–the manager claimed they were maintaining only 25% capacity, when the city now allowed 50%. He also claimed no infections in store since April. But with customers three deep at the cheese counter and the checkout line wrapping around the store they have lost the hygiene advantage. Ironically, the 2nd Ave. Fairway now feels safer because nobody goes there anymore (with good reason).

    32. EdNY says:

      Try Morton Williams on WEA & 59th Street in the evening. It’s never crowded, it’s spacious and clean.

    33. David Sirota says:

      RSD between 113-114 has become a ticketing and towing nightmare…made worse because of Covid. Suffice it to say, signs were mysteriously removed creating an unannounced bus stop zone expanded from maybe 40 ft from bus stop sign to 2 city blocks! I park there regularly. This time, within a period of 9 hours I was ticketed twice and towed at 2:00 AM. I’m 72 and needed to go to the tow pound to pick up my car. Not Covid safe to say the least. This was wrong in so many ways beyond the 400 dollar cost. For those who park around there be especially careful.