Shopping under the province’s new COVID-19 restrictions was quite the experience since it felt like I was entering a crime scene.
After visiting the Victoria Avenue Shoppers Drug Mart on Friday morning, I was immediately met with rows upon rows of yellow "Caution" tape, which was wrapped around any item that could be considered "non-essential."
This included books, magazines, cosmetics, electronics, home goods, greeting cards and basically anything that would make a good last-minute stocking stuffer for my parents at Christmas.
Admittedly, I knew all about this new stipulation going in, with Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin announcing on Thursday that retailers must stop selling "non-essential" items as of Friday, in an attempt to stem the tide of growing COVID cases in the province.
While only time will tell if this strategy proves successful, I can only comment on the severe weirdness of walking around a fully stocked retail store with a sizeable chuck of its inventory being roped off from the public.
This is in stark contrast to the early days of the pandemic, when consumer uncertainty led people to buy items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer en masse, leaving shelves completely bare.
But on Friday, I was left with a very different feeling at Shoppers, where I was lead through a very narrow corridor in terms of what I could and couldn’t buy.
Sure, I was able to snag my groceries no problem, but being robbed of the ability to casually flip through the latest issue of Maclean’s or see what was available in the DVD bargain bin definitely left me wanting.
Maybe I’m just a spoiled suburban brat, being brought up in an era when virtually any consumer desire could be fulfilled with a simple trip down the block. But the erosion of one’s day-to-day routine definitely has an impact, especially if it’s taking place over a prolonged period of time (like most of 2020).
My next stop at Real Canadian Superstore down the street resulted in a similar public spectacle, with the staff using creative means of adapting to the new provincial health orders.
Not only were semi-transparent curtains draped over certain items, but the staff transformed their book racks into an unrecognizable mass of shrink wrap and cardboard boxes.
When I travelled to the home goods section to explore further, I had apparently crossed some invisible barrier and was told by a nearby associate that "You can’t go in there!"
In response, I sheepishly retreated to the front of the store, bought some Ritz crackers to soothe my ego, and left.
Later on in the afternoon, I ventured into Walmart with caution, having heard stories about how the store is notoriously cramped even in the age of physical distancing.
But, to the staff’s credit, the store provided a similarly streamlined shopping experience, with aisles containing "non-essential" items being completely blocked off from entry.
In the end, I don’t know if this story has a cohesive moral attached to it.
Like a lot of people mindlessly shambling through 2020, I’m just trying to adapt to these seismic societal shifts as best I can, and losing the ability to buy "non-essential" retail items is another chapter of that yet-to-be-completed story.
One thing I do know is that you should never, under any circumstances, take your anxiety or frustrations out on the people working in these stores.
Whatever mental whiplash you have to deal with because of a new provincial health order, they get it 10 times worse on the front lines, and don’t need another whiny customer asking them why they can’t buy the latest Hello Kitty hairbrush in person.
Hopefully, these restrictions get lifted by Dec. 11 and then we can all go back buying consumer goods to fill the empty void in our souls like normal.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson