Big Why

  I was sort of hoping I would be able to title this entry "Big Yes".  Alas, no.  The Big Y regional chain of foodstores, for as much as they blather about "family oriented" and caring for the local community, turns out to be just as backward and intolerant as many of the others.  My first encounter with their chain didn't even involve going into a store, but simply seizing a quick opportunity to float the question and discovering that escalation was definitely needed.  Once I determined how to reach the corporate organization and submit my thoughts via email, what I sent was reasonably self-explanatory.

Subject: retail policy question
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2016 12:44:26 -0500

Hi, I've been pointed your way as the point customer-relations person
for Big Y.  I'm from the north-shore burbs and had barely heard of
Big Y at all, but was at your Walpole location for a small event
last Sunday.  While there, I had an interesting interaction with
the manager of that store which I believe points up something that
would be better solved at the corporate policy level.  This is a
little long because it has to explain a bit of context; please
bear with me...

The store provided some resources for the event -- a small meeting
of hybrid/electric-car enthusiasts and a couple of reps from local
dealerships with some demo vehicles, set up near the ChargePoint
station there.  I was helping clean up from this, bringing some of
the store's equipment back up to near the entryway, and we were having
sort of a recap conversation with the manager.  I asked how large the
Big Y chain is and where it's headed, and was told that there are
plans to expand northward toward my area.  Great!  So I asked my next
question, if the stores had developed a "foot-friendly" operations
policy yet.

I had to translate that, rephrasing to ask whether or not I would be
harrassed if I went into the store without shoes on.  The manager's
response was immediate and felt rather knee-jerk: "oh, yes."  He
offered some excuse about "safety", which makes no sense after I had
been walking around in the parking lot for several hours barefoot.
Well-maintained store aisles would by far be a safer environment, if
anything.  Believing, let alone stating, that people may not enter
the store unless they have footwear is straight-up *discrimination*.

Retail operations management really needs to get past this timeworn
and completely false idea that bare feet are somehow bad.  There is
absolutely nothing wrong with it, and no laws or regulations against
the lifestyle at any state or federal level.  His answer, which he
likely believes as party-line, makes no sense to me.  A growing number
of people are becoming aware of the health *benefits* of freeing their
feet from the confines of shoes, which you can easily research all over
the internet -- a good starting place is where they
have a large collection of information including official statements
from many state health boards.

Note that I had no need or intent to actually go *into* the building,
we were just placing the store's table and pop-up tent and other items
by the door to make it easier for them to put away.  But since the
manager had come out to oversee this, I floated the question.  I saw
that getting into a dispute with him would probably be unproductive in
the larger scale of things and decided to simply address it at the
corporate layer.  Here's what I would like to ultimately see happen:
Big Y, as a locally-owned, smaller and presumably more agile retail
chain, can exhibit true leadership in its community relations with
progressive, forward-thinking policies and ideas such as installing
those electric car chargers out front.  Accomodating a broad range of
diverse lifestyle choices among its customers is part of that, and
someone's personal choice not to wear shoes is the same as anyone
else's about jewelry, tattoos, or a six-inch purple mohawk.  For
store personnel to feel some need to accost *anyone* over choices
or appearance for which no legal situation applies, is simply wrong.

It would be easy enough for store locations to post something akin
to this at their public entrances:

   at customers' own risk

and be confidently immune to any conceivable "liability" situation.
[There isn't one to begin with, as someone trying to bring suit over
their own self-caused foot injury would be laughed out of a court
in about five seconds.]  You could probably have one of your graphic
designers whip up something with appropriate branding that could
be emailed out to the stores to print and post, a simple step to
immediately bring up-front clarity to all patrons and employees.

Routine barefooters such as myself [since 1980 or so, I might add]
are well aware of handling their own situations and environments and
avoiding visible hazards.  That glass pickle jar that some kid just
knocked off a shelf?  No problem, and not only would I step around
something like that, I'd probably come find someone and inform them
about the breakage in aisle 6 or whatever's needed for them to keep
up the clearly high standards of venue maintenance already in place.
If anything, my bare feet on those floors are less of an overall wear
impact than anybody else's shoes, and presents no hazard to myself
or anyone else.  It is also not anyone else's decision to make,
really -- if they genuinely believe it is, then why aren't they
handing out gloves and NIOSH masks at the doors?

Please have your high-level people give this some serious thought.
It's not the sixties anymore, and as more of the public realizes that
allowing their feet to be free and work as they're *supposed* to rather
than squeezing them into orthotically damaging confinment that doubles
as an athletes-foot farm, the more social pushback you're likely to
start seeing about this.  Please help to get Big Y ahead of that curve
and support such healthy-lifestyle decisions.  If this could go
hand-in-hand with your northward expansion, you could certainly count
on *me* as a regular customer and a vigorous public advocate for an
organization that, as the very email address I'm sending this to
would imply, cares about its customers and its culture.

A reply came back remarkably quickly later the same day, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Subject: Re: retail policy question
From: Betti Boggis <>
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2016 15:07:12 -0400

Thank you for your e-mail.  I read it with interest and enjoyed many
of your comments.

We are a privately owned company, and as such we make rules and
regulations based on past history, and common sense.

We do not allow people into our stores who are barefoot.  As you stated,
there is broken glass, and other items that might be left behind after
a spill or break.

You might be responsible and take care of where you walk, but others might
not.  The idea of being sued because someone cut the bottom of their
foot on a shard of glass is not something we wish to encourage.

I applaud your individualism, and at some time, hope to make your


Betti Boggis

Corporate Consumer Relations
Big Y Foods Inc.
PO Box 7840
2145 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, Ma  01102-7840
(800) 828-2688
(413) 504-4423
(413) 731-0087 (Fax)  (E-mail)

Proud to work for an American Owned Company, for 30 years!

In God I trust.
"Past history" ??  Like, say, from around 1964?  And how are your religious leanings relevant to your professional activities?  Besides, in that context, taking off one's shoes has been a human gesture of *respect* for thousands of years before your little enterprise's 80-year eyeblink of existence. 

She was listening, but she wasn't listening.  You don't read something "with interest" and then basically ignore most of what it says.  At least she gave me some credit for being "responsible".  But I found her reply fairly annoying at several levels, and it took some bit of restraint to shoot back only this:

To: Betti Boggis <>
Subject: Re: retail policy question
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2016 14:28:50 -0500

As I mentioned, such a lawsuit simply could not be won.  That
should also fall under the category of common sense.

Please at least kick the idea around and get perspective from
your peers in light of what I pointed out.  Again, it needs to
be purely a matter of personal choice, as it would for me anywhere
else I happen to go.  In many other cultures and settings around
the world, business with establishments while barefoot is never
thought of as "abnormal" or of any particular concern.

If "proud to be American owned" also means narrow-minded, then
that's rather dismaying.  I do realize there's a lot of that in
this country, but was hoping that Big Y could rise above that.

While I managed to wrap that up where I did, it was sorely tempting to add something like
   If you're going to kick me out, how about also turning away all the
   blacks and Muslims for the sake of consistency??  Because, y'know,
   they're a public safety risk, right?  Oh, and let's not forget all
   those Mexican rapists.  Sorry, regardless of today's chaotic and
   morally bereft political environment, that is NOT what I think of
   when reading "American owned".  And we all need to eat, don't we?
Maybe Ms. Boggis should go ask Vince Wilfork for his thoughts about civil rights.

_H*   160814  (the day I went for a *barefoot hike* in Upton)

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