Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

“Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

This lyric snippet is from the 1998 song by the alternative-rock group Semisonic. It refers to closing a tavern at the end of a day. However, every establishment that is open to the public has its set hours, including grocers. Even in a 24-hour operation a produce department has what they call the closing shift.

I closed up shop for the first few years of my produce career. It takes a long time to build seniority and work your way into an early time slot.

The closing shift always started out busy. When I showed up for work in the afternoons, the store was always crowded. Until the dinner rush finally subsided around 8 p.m. or so, it was heavy stocking and rotating and, well, just plain hustling.

The only thing that was missing? The produce manager.

He doesn't get it

As clerks, we got to the point that we felt the boss didn’t understand everything that had to be done at night. The expectations were very high: Stock everything just so, as well as sometimes unloading trucks or clean cases or — well, do whatever was on the to-do list.

After I became a produce manager a few years later, the memories of the closing shift were never far from my mind. To keep myself from getting overly complacent (and to show my part-timers that I wasn’t soft) I occasionally scheduled myself right alongside them.

Once a quarter or so, I closed up shop, just like the old days.

I did it just like my youngest brother, who as a drill sergeant took part in PT (physical training) and trained with his raw recruits. Likewise, closing shop as a manager helped to keep up my ability to get everything done.

Better perspective

Closing a department as a produce manager also fulfilled a requirement we had — to occasionally work late. Though usually this meant a mid-late shift, it impressed the crew to see the boss tackle the “real” late shift. More than this, it was a good time to work with the younger clerks, to show them that all the things I asked of them were, in fact, possible. If I could show them the old man could take care of all the details and leave the department in great shape, they could too.

Working the closing shift also gave me a better scheduling perspective; what time the big rush hit and what time it subsided. It also provided a close-up of late-night stock conditions, and if my clerks needed more or less training. Closing up shop as a manager was good for morale and good for the department.

Occasionally, that is.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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