The founder and CEO of Toronto organic grocer The Sweet Potato says a shopper who filmed a confrontation with staff over her refusal to wear a mask, and then posted it to social media, is no longer welcome in his store.
“I’m reluctant to ban anyone from [the] store. It’s not a move I like taking,” Digs Dorfman told Canadian Grocer. “[But] while the pandemic’s still going on, and if she comes back without a mask, we’re definitely not going to let her in again.”
In the video first published by 6ixBuzzTV and BlogTO, the woman appears to be anticipating a showdown with Sweet Potato staff over her refusal to wear a mask.
“Here I [expletive] go. Let’s go,” she says as she films herself walking to the store’s entrance. “The good old Sweet Potato, where I used to get all my organic groceries, spend all my money. But unfortunately, they have decided that they don’t want to honour my human rights anymore.”
— blogTO (@blogTO) March 11, 2021
As the video progresses, viewers see two The Sweet Potato employees informing the woman that customers are required to wear masks when in the store. When she refuses, claiming that the policy goes against “the [city of Toronto] bylaw and my human rights,” the employees inform her that the store offers online pick-up and delivery.
The woman responds that she needs feminine hygiene products and that the earliest pick-up slot was for 7 p.m. “So, what do you suggest I do?” As the video continues, the woman demands the name of the employees before leaving the store.
Dorfman said there have been a number of comments and complaints about the store’s mask policy, leading him to post a lengthy message to the company’s website last year outlining the store’s position and inviting customers to contact him with questions and comments. “I got called Hitler and a communist a bunch of times, but ultimately you shrug it off and move forward,” he said.
In his letter, Dorfman said while the company had previously allowed customers with mask exemptions to shop in its store since it was unable to make a reasonable accommodation for those unable to wear masks, it had updated its policy after launching shop.thesweetpotato.ca, offering both curbside pick-up and home delivery.
He told Canadian Grocer he had personally responded to between 20 and 30 letters from customers enquiring about the store’s mask policy. Dorfman himself has only been inside the store a handful of times since the pandemic began, since, as a Type 1 diabetic, he is at high risk for contracting COVID-19.
Dorfman said The Sweet Potato also developed some talking points and staff training relating to face coverings in the wake of some incidents last fall, including one in which a man began swearing at staff after being instructed to recover his face after pulling his mask down. One of the key messages to staff, said Dorfman, was about the importance of not taking what people were saying personally.
“I feel like the person in that [recent] video tried very hard to make it personal, and I really appreciate how well our staff were able to not take it personally and distance themselves from the situation,” he said.
Stories of anti-maskers loudly decrying store rules have become almost commonplace as the pandemic continues, but Dorfman admits to feeling somewhat surprised by the vitriol directed at his staff over the past year.
“It’s very easy for people, with the distance of social media, to just be able to attack an organization,” he says. “We’re all people that have devoted our lives to the selling of organic foods and supporting local agriculture. We’re pretty good people, and the situation is at best highly challenging.”