The Stop & Shop grocery chain has a location fairly near me, so it's
often my go-to store for quick food pickups.
Not only is it a fairly large-scale retail group, it is part of the
conglomerate of brands, which also includes Hannaford, Giant, and
Food Lion as well as numerous European holdings.
Exploring the Stop & Shop
specifically turns up all kinds of ballyhoo about "responsible retailing",
healthy and sustainable living, and giving back to the community.
Then why would any part of their organization want to interfere with
someone's healthy lifestyle choices by violating their civil rights?
The Stop&Shops in my area have the usual "everything" signs out front, containing the stock corporate small print about "shoes and shirt required" and the usual no-smoking stuff. Easy to miss; the signs that grab your attention on the way in are things like sale items and encouragement for bringing reusable bags. I had a brief chat with the manager at my local store, who went on in a typical closed-minded way about how he has "... been in this business for 35 years and no question, you need shoes to be in here." Well, I question that. I handed him one of my info flyers and pleaded with him to do a little more research at his leisure, and decided that no matter how ponderous the corporate structure he was a tiny cog within, I was going to take it to that level and actually try to effect some change. The statement would be, as usual, "if you have a footwear policy it would be in your best interest to officially rescind it, and you can research why this is true all over the internet". Reasonable enough.
This proved challenging at the outset, as I first tried to locate good contacts within the *Ahold* structure. Not only are they based in Belgium and the Netherlands, there were no readily findable phone numbers or email addresses for their US-based offices. Even digging through annual reports and press stuff didn't turn up anything valid. Stop&Shop has a "customer service" line which is largely useless, where people offered half-ass guesses as to policy and couldn't find me contact info for the real corpororate offices where such things need to be addressed. Finally I just got on their website and turned on enough browser fluff to use their online contact form, just to basically first ask "does this actually reach anyone", and eventually got a response with an email address I could supposedly use to reach some sort of C-level customer advocacy department. Note their address carefully: coming from a third-party email house, and "AUSA" might have implied that I might be in touch with Ahold as a whole but I couldn't be entirely sure. With a tenuous data connection finally open, I sent the first payload.
From: *Hobbit* Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:39:55 To: Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs <AUSA_ConsumerAffairs@epowercenterdirect.com> Re: test? I'm looking for the correct contacts to discuss a specific retail- operations policy, in this case any "requirement" for patrons to wear shoes inside Stop&Shop locations. More specifically, if such a rule exists at all, how to work toward rescinding it and moving not only Stop&Shop but all of the Ahold brands toward a "barefoot-friendly" stance within their communities. Asking various levels of employees either in-store or via consumer-relations phone numbers returns mixed results and guesswork, e.g. most people simply don't seem to know what actual policy is or is not [and unfortunately, often pretend to know based purely from their own misinformation]. Furthermore, there is no indication present at any nearby location entrance that I've examined, and nothing on your relevant websites about it. There is a lot of expanding interest in the health benefits of not wearing shoes, with plentiful information findable on the internet. Please have the right decision-makers begin by visiting the website barefooters.org which perhaps has the most information and points out to numerous other resources. The outdated notions or fears about bare feet being bad or unhealthy or unsafe are fully debunked there, and the growing public wisdom on the subject cannot be ignored. None of the federal or state food-handling codes mention it, and there are no laws or regulations concerning bare feet in any state. With all the promotional stuff I find on the S&S and Ahold websites about community relations, social responsibility, sustainability etc you would think that this family of companies would be able to adopt the progressive thinking necessary to cut through the old mythology. Having your Dutch roots could help bring perspective, as European nations in general are far less intrusive on footgear choices as we are in the US. What the barefoot community would love to see posted on the doors of such retail establishments is something like BARE FEET WELCOME At customer's own risk which makes everyone's intentions clear and also covers any remaining concerns about "liability". Stores and their parent companies cannot be held liable for something resulting from a patron's own personal decision [made far earlier in the parking lot, I might add] but retail establishments *could* place themselves at risk of anti-discrimination action if they persist in clinging to backward rules that make no real-world sense. Please escalate to the people who actually make policy decisions at this level. At Ahold too, not just Stop&Shop. It's an idea whose time is not just coming, but here and wanting to bring you its business. Thanks
Date: 29 Jun 2016 13:08:26 From: "Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs" Subject: Reply from Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs Thank you for the feedback. The shirt and shoe policy has been in place for many years. It is not a food safety concern, but really is a people safety concern. We need to have protocols and policies in place that protect the aggregate of our associates and customers and wearing footwear is certainly a significant concern. Our stores are subject to many items being on the floor, despite the diligence of our associates. This includes food items, liquids and also potentially hazardous or sharp items, which do have the propensity to cause injury. There is also significant exposure for falling items, carts and sliding doors causing injury - especially to those without shoes and those wearing sandals. Please be assured that your comments have been shared with our Operations Department. Thanks, again, for contacting us. We appreciate hearing from you. Sincerely, Evelyn H. Customer Care Representative
I made an effort to get "Evelyn" et al to think on it a little harder.
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2016 08:57:36 From: *Hobbit* To: Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs Subject: Re: Reply from Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs Yes, I find it sort of odd that open sandals are acceptable footgear when someone could conceivably knock a can off a high shelf while reaching for something and whack their toes. But such things are part of the hazards we all deal with in daily life, at home just as well as in retail establishments. The "shirt and shoe" thing has been "in place" since the sixties, when it was a convenient excuse for shop owners [particularly in the south] to subtly discriminate against people of color despite the Civil Rights Act [you will find some of that history around the internet], and later against the hippie movement, but really, it's time that society moved past such narrow-minded memes and actually thought things through a little more. It *is* a form of discrimination, with a rather ill-defined boundary as to what constitutes "something on our feet". People who routinely go barefoot are also well aware of hazards they might encounter and are not only resistant to same via tougher, conditioned soles, they have more situational awareness as to what's there in the first place. Store aisles are actually some of the safest places I could imagine, especially when as well maintained as I see in S&S locations. Consider that in contrast to, say, the garbage-strewn hotel loading docks where *I* personally work on technical production gigs fairly regularly, rolling heavy roadcases in and out of trucks in cold weather -- barefoot the whole time. My worst recent foot problem, in fact, was stubbing a toe on the desk chair *in my bedroom* at home. Other than that, my feet are healthy and strong and capable, and not nearly as delicate as common misperceptions would have us all believe. I would appreciate if someone there can be a conduit for a voice of reason on this, and what better place to work toward reversing an arguably ill-founded social stigma than some of the larger companies that the public expects to be most resistant to it? Please ask some of your European associates what their take is on this, and whether it's even reasonable anymore to try and micromanage what members of the public already clearly have well in hand. We can't all walk around in work boots, hard hats, NIOSH masks, and gloves all day just because "something might happen". I would far rather accept the responsibility for my own safety, as I do everywhere else. The appropriate and simple public notice coupled with a bit of employee retraining could easily let that happen. Thanks
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2016 12:26:11 From: *Hobbit* To: Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs <AUSA_ConsumerAffairs@epowercenterdirect.com> Subject: Re: Reply from Stop & Shop So, have we made any progress on lifting that misguided policy about shoes? It's pretty frustrating to have supposedly professional people try to arbitrarily infringe on my civil rights if I enter a store location as I'm accustomed to going just about everywhere else. They, along with S&S corporate, really needs to take some time and do some research about the safety and health *benefits* of going barefoot -- it's all over the internet, just do a little googling. None of the harassment I would face is legally supportable, and may be borderline ILLEGAL in Massachusetts. The employees who seem to take some sort of personally-motivated exception to this might as well be walking up to random customers and saying "you're ugly, get out of the store". Think about your community relations at the local level in that context -- that's about what's going on here. This is the 21st century, at a time when discrimination of any sort is NOT socially or professionally acceptable regardless of today's political climate, and commercial establishments really need to move forward beyond that outdated and completely wrong mythology from the sixties. Is your policymaking staff aware that it originated *as* an excuse to discriminate against people in the first place, and to this day has nothing to do with safety, health, liability, food, or even social standing? Please work harder on this, before I have to start sending in strongly-worded complaints about individual employees who choose to get in a customer's face instead of doing their own jobs.
Date: 18 Oct 2016 14:00:54 From: "Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs" Subject: Re: Reply from Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs Hello, Thank you for your recent email. While we certainly appreciate and respect your views on our shoe wearing policy in our stores, there are no plans to change the policy at this time. Additionally, if you experience any issues with our associates, please let us know or follow up with the store manager so that they can be addressed appropriately. Thanks, again, for contacting us. We appreciate hearing from you. Sincerely, Evelyn H. Customer Care Representative
Date: Wed, 19 Oct 2016 07:43:29 From: *Hobbit* To: Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs Subject: Re: Reply from Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs If you have not yet consulted with your European counterparts, please make sure to do so. Do you think that someone walking into an Albert Heijn location in Amsterdam without shoes on would be subject to the same kind of harassment as they might in the US? They're generally far more progressive about such things across the pond, and it would behoove your department to explore that as part of your additional research. I would love to open a dialogue directly with some of the point administrative people within Ahold Delhaize, if you have any workable email contact info for them. Yes, I'm serious about that. We all need the additional perspective. As I mentioned before, there's a lot of new and changed knowledge about this topic all over the internet these days, and retailers CANNOT continue to ignore it. You are denying a fundamental human right, suppression of which can have disastrous long-term physiological effects on the lower body and extremities. You also don't seem to have consulted your legal staff, as to how they would balance risk of action over discrimination issues vs. action concerning foot injuries to someone who WILLINGLY ENTERED A PREMISES without shoes in the first place. When you consider those two paths, especially in Massachusetts, the choice really should be pretty clear. This question is not going to go away simply because you've pushed away "some nutcase from the internet" once more. There are many more barefooting advocates than you might think, and our numbers are growing. Please continue giving it the consideration and independent research that you know it deserves.
This left things at a bit of an impasse as of late 2016, but I wasn't done with them yet. It was time to reach a little higher in the food chain. Early the next year I had an opportunity to simply stop in at the Ahold-Delhaize main corporate offices in Carlisle PA, and launch an "assault on the citadel". Their headquarters is located in a pleasantly bucolic rural area near where 81 crosses the PA Pike, easy to find right off US11. I came through town around 10AM on a Friday morning and pulled into the parking lot behind the building without any impediment, and walked into the front lobby to ask for someone from their legal department.
Good thing I didn't come any earlier, as most of their employees were still streaming back in from a big off-site meeting that morning and I basically rode in on the wave of that. But the reception desk found me someone from the Risk Management area to come down to the lobby and chat; he said that didn't have a lot of time so I tried to make it brief, emphasizing the duty-of-care aspect and *lack* of liability on the part of a store and handing him some of my fairly standard advocacy / website-pointer material. It was not exactly the most typical way he would ever interact with anyone from the public, in person right there in his own corporate stronghold, but he listened cordially and gave me his card. Once I got off the road later I sent him a followup email.
Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 20:01:08 To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: meeting followup Thank you for your time on Friday. I realize that someone coming straight in to your corporate headquarters for a consumer-relations discussion may not be the most common occurrence, but as I said I was passing through and hoping to give prior contacts in that department a face to put with an email address. Sorry if I seemed a bit incoherent, but I didn't want to keep you away from your work. The exchange between myself the mysterious "Evelyn H" from a few months back may be viewed here: http://techno-fandom.org/~hobbit/bf/ssh.html which, while a bit lengthy on my part, hopefully describes the case. I felt that she was working more from personal bias than providing objective responses. Additionally, one of the excuses frequently given in the course of harassing a barefooter is "liability concerns", and it seems to me that by definition, a retail establishment's duty of care would NOT extend to responsibility for anyone's personal lifestyle preference including that of not wearing shoes when they are well-used to it. Posted signs such as the suggested "at own risk" variant would provide redundant levels of indemnification, and basically cost nothing to implement. The US-based Ahold-Delhaize brands have a good opportunity here in the areas of diversity and community-mindedness, as proudly described in several areas of the company websites. I truly believe that for the brands to become outwardly barefoot-friendly would ultimately be viewed as responsible business practice and endorsing more aspects of healthy living, with no adverse side effects or undue risks to manage. Your marketing departments could likely spin it into a positive press release, to resonate in the industry and help educate its constituents. Perhaps you could ask Kevin Holt to call up Dick Boer across the pond, and ask about general public and corporate attitudes toward shoe-free lifestyles in the more progressive European countries? If you find an opportunity to present the general idea to some really key players with global perspective, please feel free to involve them and encourage further research. I would love to know their honest, human-being take on the question. There is fairly high-profile precedent for this, by the way. Chains like REI and Trader Joe's do not have a footwear policy, and the online community is fairly certain that neither do Kroger and Walmart. Small shops and neighborhood general stores seem quite amenable as well. There are likely others which have decided that as they settle into the 21st century, it makes sense to move beyond fifty-year-old mythologies whose origins were never based in real-life fact or concern. Thanks again!
Download and print this sheet scaled onto 8.5x11 paper, cut out the cards, and if accosted in a store it may carry quite a bit of weight to hand the assailant one of them and say "call this man" for a proper explanation of premises liability. Most on-the-ground employees probably won't even recognize the logo, until it is pointed out that Ahold is their mothership and the ultimate source of all things corporate and legal.
It was thus uncertain where this left things standing as of March 2017 or so, but since then my local Stop&Shop seems to have specifically decided to leave me alone despite the tiny sign-segment out front. After I complained to its service desk after one or two low-level employees decided to waste my time and theirs on harassing me, I think their managers got the message on their own and I never had to pull out one of Bruce's cards for them. I now stride right by floor supervisors and have only caught one or two brief downward glances over time, but no objections for a year-plus now. I've also had no problems in a couple of other nearby locations. Perhaps word was quietly put out along the managerial chains to be more accomodating, lest their very few but nonzero barefoot customers decide to food-shop at Target down the road instead. It would have been nice to receive some kind of confirmation or feedback about that if it was true, but as long as a non-confrontational status quo continues to be maintained for the moment, I'm willing to just run with it.
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