Update and Action Plan for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Scroll down for previous updates.

June 22, 2020: “The New Normal” — but for how long?

It has been a long time — three months! — since our last update. Time sure flies when you’re a front-line worker in a health crisis. Sincerely, thank you for all your support as we’ve worked to respond and adapt in these changing times.

Here’s where we are currently, responding to the novel coronavirus. And where we hope to be soon.

2% “Hazard Pay” Surcharge

Beginning almost 3 months ago, we began placing a 2% surcharge on all purchases, 100% of which has been distributed to our staff working on-site during this health crisis. Basically, for every $50 of groceries, you were charged $51. We matched the customer 2% with 2% from the business. All told, this has come to a de facto $5 an hour raise for our staff here on the front lines.

It is distributed proportional to hours worked. The only exempt employees are those working from home (2), and the owners (2).

Obviously, this will come to an end at some point. But when?

We are not going to make this decision ourselves, but peg it to the State’s Phases of Reopening. When/if the state gets to Phase 3, we will eliminate the surcharge. When/if the state reverts back to Phase 2, we will restore the surcharge.


I know, it hurts to see all those lovely beans and grains, once flowing free, now in plastic… But, as per governor’s orders, we can not allow customers to use self-serve bulk. We transitioned the vast majority of our formerly bulk offering to containers. What’s left (primarily herbs and spices), our staff will be happy to scoop for you (sanitizing hands first, of course) into new (read: not from home) containers.

While we have been moving away from bulk nuts, grains & beans these last months, it is our hope to eventually restore most of our bulk offerings.


We are required by federal law to accept cash as legal tender for all transactions. However, as part of our attempt to minimize touches for our cashiers, we are requesting payment by credit card when possible. If you prefer to pay with cash, a cashier may call a manager to handle it.

Capacity / Density / Lines (How Many Customers at a Time?)

Newly revised state regulations allow 8 people (customers plus staff) per 1,000 square feet of useable space. For us that’s around 25-26 people – excluding workers in our kitchen.

Our policy remains to allow 10 customers during highly-staffed hours, more during evenings and on Sundays when we have fewer staff. So we’re already coming in under the state requirement.

If we’re full, we may have you wait in line. Normally, waits are no longer than 5 minutes. If we are very busy, we may request — not demand; just request — that each family send in only one member.

Curbside Pickup

We offer curbside pickup through our website. Go to our website at www.DebrasNaturalGourmet.com, then the upper left of the menu bar, and click “Order Online!”

There are some instructions there before you start ordering. You can skip them… but you probably shouldn’t! Our website is great — but a little quirky. Best to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Customers / Staff who May Be Sick

We have instructed our staff to report in but stay home if they show any symptoms suggestive of coronavirus, or if they’ve had close contact with any suspected carriers. So far, we’ve had no active staffers with symptoms. We in turn will report to the Department of Health for guidance.

We reserve the right to deny entry to any customers we fear may be a carrier — who are coughing, appear feverish, etc., or show any other indications they might be carriers. Sorry. I know this is not the “Debra’s welcome” you’ve grown accustomed to. On our end, we are trying to be cognizant that some of us — customers and staff — may be more susceptible than others.

Debra’s Cards

As part of our attempt to minimize touches as per recommendations at both the state and town level, we are temporarily suspending our stamp card program. To be very clear, that means we’re no longer issuing new cards, or adding stamps to existing cards. We are still redeeming all previously stamped cards. We are actively investigating ways to transition to a touch-less (electronic) stamp card system.

Doors / Handicap Entrance

We have locked the back door so as to have only one entry point, so we can manage the lines. We understand this puts an undue, even unfair, burden on the less mobile and differently abled members of our customer community. You shouldn’t have to ask to be let in! But please ask. And thank you for understanding this is what we have to work with in our current building.

Hand Sanitation / Gloves

We make our own hand sanitizer on-site, with 70.5% isopropyl alcohol, aloe, glycerine, and essential oils. We make it available at the front door, and throughout the store.

We do not mandate gloves, as we believe the bulk of the evidence suggests they are of minimal value, or even counterproductive.

Masks / Face Coverings

As per state regs, all customers must wear mouth & nose coverings (mask, shield) at all times in the store. Similar masks are required for staff when social distancing is not possible, on the sales floor, in the bulk room, and when working with food. You may catch one of us behind a desk, 12 or 15 feet away from you, lifting the mask to sip coffee.

As per state regulations, medical exemptions to the mask rule are allowed.


Our return policy has not changed, with the exception of quantity limits. Customers seeking to return more than one of an item will need a manager’s approval. This policy was put into place as a deterrent during the early “hoarding phase” of corona, when so many people were buying 150 rolls of toilet paper at a time.

Reusable Bags

As per governor’s order, customers may not use reusable bags.

Sanitizer (House-Made)

Yes, at more than 70% isopropyl alcohol, our house-made sanitizer complies with both EPA and WHO standards. We sell it at $15 a pint.

Seating for Eating

We can not safely provide and/or enforce social distancing expected for restaurants at our indoor table. So that table will be off limits. Outside benches are available to customers, with social distancing markings.

Senior Discount / EBT / Food Stamps on Remote Sales

As per federal policy, we can not take EBT remotely. The card has to be present. Technically, this has changed in the last week or two, and now there is technology that allows customers to register for remote EBT. But that tech is not widely available. We hope our technology partner upgrades soon.

We are not offering the senior discount via curbside pickup. We simply do not have a way of verifying age remotely. Customers over the age of 60 who wish to receive the senior discount are encouraged to shop during Senior Hours.

Senior / Immunocompromised Shopping Hours

The senior shopping hours requirement has been lifted. However, we will still remain open 6 days a week for customers age 60 and over ONLY from 8 to 9 am; and for seniors AND the medically immunocompromised from 9-10. We do not require proof of age or medical status to enter.

Social Distancing

We attempt to encourage social distancing, and are always grateful to receive a friendly reminder from a customer when we drift too close. We may also gently try to remind our customers not to congregate too closely.

It is beyond our power, however, to guarantee that everyone is going to be six feet away from everyone else at all times.

16, 2020

March 16, 2020

1. We’re Open!

We’re still chugging along here. No known (or suspected) cases of COVID-19, no suspected direct exposure, among our staff, vendors, or customers who’ve come through our doors. Obviously, that’s likely to change at some point. We’ll keep you posted.

2. Stock Update

Sunday afternoon, we’re running low on some things — toilet paper, tomato products, milk — and almost completely cleaned out on frozen vegetables and canned beans. We have plenty of dry beans, grains, baking mixes, fresh veggies, eggs, meat, cheese, chips, cereal, elderberry, zinc lozenges, herbal medicine, soap, shampoo, and pet food; although we may not have our full selection. We’re expecting a major delivery Monday, and additional deliveries throughout the week.

3. Expanded Health Leave for Staff

On Thursday (and we’re proud to say before any “leadership” from Washington on the subject), we announced two additional weeks of emergency paid medical leave for all staff, for any corona-related reason. This will include active or suspected illness, self-quarantine, care of a loved one, membership in a high-risk category, or store closure. For equity’s sake, we will also provide two weeks’ salary to anyone who makes it through this without taking time.

Financially, an additional two weeks pay for 50+ staffers is not something we budgeted for. But:

Some of our staff have been with us more than 25 years.

Others started just weeks ago.

Either way, they’re our staff.

So please bear with us if we’re a little understaffed for a while, as some of our more vulnerable employees have already chosen to take time.

Meanwhile others have stepped in to continue meeting the trucks, unpacking the boxes, helping you find what you’re looking for, and running the cash registers. Again, we should be up and running for the foreseeable future.

4. Quantity Limits / Return Policy Updates

We understand the desire to stock up and prepare in the face of difficult times. However, to sustain access to crucial products for our entire customer community, we have put in place two new policies to 

First, we may have to enforce quantity limits on key items. If we do, you’ll see a sign on the shelf.  This will be on the honor system. If you’re buying for both yours and another household, we’ll understand.  

Second, moving forward we will only be able to accept returns on products purchased:  

  1. with a receipt
  2. within the last month
  3. no more than 1 of the same item
  4. for store credit only

5. Supplier Forecast

Trucks are still running. Farmers are still farming. Chickens are still laying. Cows are still giving milk. The supply chain on certain items (hand sanitizer, very particular medicinal herbs) has some catching up to do. But we’re confident that most delays will be no more than an inconvenience.
For those who have asked, we are not concerned about overseas product being contaminated with coronavirus. First of all, the virus isn’t just overseas. But even if it were, and even in a worst-case scenario where the virus lives for a week on a hard surface, there’s nothing we sell from overseas that takes less than a week to get here.

6. We’re Here

We are 50+ full- and part-timers from Concord and the surrounding communities. We’re grocers and cooks and herbalists, accountants, farmers, and students. A handful of few of us can telecommute. The rest of us — Debra and I included — will continue to be here.
Thank you.

March 12, 2020

Dear Debra’s Natural Gourmet community, 

It has often been the case, in difficult times, that grocery stores are vital resources in the communities they serve.  It is apparent today, in light of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, how much this continues to be true 1.

You have come to us in recent days to stock your pantry, replenish cleaning supplies, support your immunity, and prepare alongside others in the community.   We, too, have begun to prepare and to act so that we may continue to remain open so long as it is reasonable, feasible, and responsible to do so.  Even if we have to curtail the hugs.   

Here’s where things stand with us now:

The situation, and our understanding of it, is evolving rapidly.  We will continue to look to local, state, and federal guidance on how to move forward responsibly.   

Finally, we hope you share our gratitude for our staff who continue to work so hard to ensure our store is well-stocked, clean, and welcoming.   

Thank you for continuing to choose and trust Debra’s. It is a sincere pleasure to work alongside our staff, and to serve you.

Debra Stark & Adam Stark

1st- and 2nd-Generation Co-Owners

30 years in the community

  1. These first two paragraphs borrow liberally from a similar statement issued March 10 by Cate Hardy, CEO PCC Community Markets.  If you ever are in the greater Seattle area, PCC is a great local chain.