Vaughan Ills: Testimonials of a Retail Worker in a Pandemic

Asymptomatic carriers, the Ministry of Labour, and some poor poor employees walk into an outlet mall...

 You know what COVID-19 is. It tanked the economy, was responsible for 1.5 million deaths, and it ruined the phrase “to avoid something like the plague” because that’s not a thing people do anymore. Still, I venture out, because I don’t intend on living in my parents’ basement forever. I work at Vaughan Mills, specifically the Oakley store, and I can safely say that working during a pandemic is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Image Credit: Narcity

I started working again in August, when Ontario’s cases were at a record low. It was a safe experience, which doesn’t surprise me. I’m lucky to have some great managers. Foot traffic was manageable, we had a 12 customer capacity, and the gentleman who runs the shawarma place in the food court called me a “very handsome man”.  Needless to say, life was pretty good! Even as cases began to skyrocket and the second wave reared its ugly head, I felt safe and taken care of. Our government was making smart and informed decisions and I had nothing to fear at all, right? Well, about that… 

Flash forward to November 20th. Premier Ford announces that in three days, Toronto and Peel regions will be entering lockdown. Sounds logical, really isn’t. By not locking down York Region (which has its own fair share of cases) shoppers from Toronto and Peel can just shop anywhere in York. With Black Friday on its way, why wouldn’t people get their holiday shopping done at everyone’s favourite outlet mall? It was a recipe for disaster, and working that weekend was hectic. Ironically enough, many customers would ask how we were feeling about being shut down the following Monday, not fully understanding the orders given by the government. A+ for messaging, Doug! 

And so, we reach Black Friday. News articles and hokey Instagram pages (sorry-not-sorry 6ixbuzz) were posting pictures of the gargantuan lineups posted outside of Vaughan Mills early in the morning. When I got to work that afternoon, the mall was strangely empty. Early on in the day Vaughan Mills lowered their carrying capacity to 20%, which was just 4000 people.The Ministry of Labour was patrolling the mall non-stop that entire weekend. They were charging stores that were exceeding their carrying capacity, not following social distancing guidelines, or housing anyone wearing their mask improperly. They did a phenomenal job and I can’t thank them enough, but don’t take my word for it! My manager had this to say:

“With us being the only region open, I appreciate the decrease in capacity. It’s less overwhelming, and I feel safer at work, but I think if they’re going to shut some regions down, they should shut everything down. Everyone should be on the same page for the next 28 days or so. However, as of right now with the current restrictions and guidelines placed on the mall, I do feel safe.”

I share her sentiment that Ontario needs to be on the same page as to what exactly is happening, and the government needs to make more decisive actions. They also need to make sure that those actions are advertised in an easy to understand way. The question isn’t “Will Ontario survive the pandemic?”, because I’m certain we will. The question then becomes “How will future generations look back on how our leadership handled the pandemic?”. I don’t have an answer for that, but I sure do miss when I dreaded going to work because of laziness and not the plague.

Posted in Blog.

Nicholas is a first year RTA Media Production student from Vaughan, Ontario. A former theatre kid who’s channeling that creative energy into the world of writing, he’s written and directed short films that have been accepted into the Vaughan Film Festival as part of their Student Initiative. He’s into movies, video games, politics, and he can make you a mean steak sandwich if you ask him nicely.