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Hassett Hardware: Weighing What’s Right in Crisis

The spread of COVID-19 has brought moral dilemmas to Eric Hassett, owner of five Hassett Hardware stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hassett’s stores sell products, such as cleaning supplies, which are critical for customers and employees to use to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. His business was deemed essential for the community and has continued operating.

Balancing care for both employees and customers has forced Hassett to reassess daily how he does business, what products he orders and how he schedules his staff.

“This is a challenging time, and my employees are scared,” he says. 

He isn’t pushing fearful employees to work, especially if they are from groups that are particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to their ages or current health.

Recently, he closed one of his stores for two days because he didn’t have enough employees available to keep all five locations open safely.

Hassett has furloughed many employees who are 60 and older, have pre-existing conditions that put them at risk, or are caring for family members in either category so they can receive unemployment benefits while they isolate. To Hassett, that’s part of taking care of his team.

For employees who are willing to staff the stores, Hassett has offered temporary hazard pay raises, paid for team lunches and snacks and allowed them to buy products at cost while the shelter-in-place orders are in effect.

The day the governor of California ordered residents to shelter in place and only leave home for necessary responsibilities, sales shot up 71 percent for Hassett’s business.  Sales during the first week remained high on a range of products, but have tapered downward entering week three.

Hassett is looking constantly for balance in keeping employees safe while still providing his community the products they need.

“The stores are spraying, sanitizing, installing sneeze guards, doing everything right,” he says. 

A major concern he sees, though, is that his stores are selling a high volume of products people don’t need to stay physically healthy, such as paint.

Yet he understands customers are turning to DIY projects to balance their emotional well-being, and painting  may help them stay well while they are cooped up at home.

He is staying in touch with other business owners, talking through decisions that impact his staff and customers so he can make informed choices for his business and his team.

“There’s a moral quagmire we’re all in,” Hassett says. “Are we putting our employees at risk by having them work? Especially when we’re selling a lot of nonessential things? I struggle with that because I don’t want to put them in harm’s way.

Through uncertainty, Hassett remains thankful for community support.

“Our community is supporting us and appreciative of our hard-working heroes, which means we need to keep our team safe and healthy to continue to serve,”  Hassett says.

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About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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