Customers walking into the Sardis Safeway over a one-hour period on Oct. 10 immediately noticed something was different.
Many of the features of a normal grocery store experience were absent. No clanking carts, no “clean up in aisle three” announcements, no music playing.
Lights were dimmed by two thirds, scanner noises were reduced, deli slicers were turned off, and forklifts were not in use.
It was all part of a new program of so-called “sensory-friendly shopping” to make the experience of buying groceries more calming for individuals on the autism spectrum or those with mental health disorders or concussions.
The idea for Safeway first came to the Willowbrook store by the deli manager who is the mother of a child on the autism spectrum. Ashley Baresinkoff found out about a Sobey’s store in Nova Scotia offering sensory-friendly shopping so she wanted to bring it to B.C.
“When I do go shopping with my son, it’s a lot of stimulation, which for him is just overwhelming, and I know I’m not alone in this,” Baresinkoff said back in April when the Langley store began a two-month trial, once a week for one hour. “I wanted to see if sensory-friendly shopping was something we could try here,” she says, crediting the store management team for their enthusiastic support.”
The idea was a hit.
“Langley had started with April and May, but the response was so good, that they have continued all along,” Sardis Safeway manager Corinna Ivey said. “Their responses are what have prompted all Safeways across B.C. to do it as well. We will be doing it weekly going forward.”
In Chilliwack the first day was Oct. 10 from 4 to 5 p.m., which will be the regular time, every Thursday.
Ivey said every store is picking their own day of the week and hour for sensory-friendly shopping, but it should be up and running at all Safeways in B.C. soon if not already.
“This will be a regular occurrence and something people can count on,” Ivey said.
On the first day, Ivey was in the lobby warning customers about why the lights were dimmed, and local occupational therapists Flannery Brown and Karisa Teindl were at a table by the door handing out information about sensory processing disorder.
Most customers coming through the doors seemed pleased by the experience of a calmer, quieter, less bright shopping experience.