Lake Oswego resident decides to protest at Safeway
Lake Oswego resident Louise Mengelkoch stood outside of the downtown Lake Oswego Safeway for a little over an hour yesterday holding a sign that read: "Safeway is not safe for employees and customers! Make masks mandatory!"
She did the same today — and will again tomorrow.
Mengelkoch decided to protest the local grocery store to encourage the chain to require people to wear masks upon entering.
While she did so alone Monday, June 15, Lake Oswego resident Terri Kraemer joined her today.
Right now, Safeway does not require people to wear masks, but it is strongly encouraged. Other local grocery stores like New Seasons have required people to shop with face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I've always been so impressed with Safeway workers and how helpful and friendly they always are," said Mengelkoch, adding that she isn't supporting mandatory masks for her, but for the safety of grocery store employees. "They deserve the best possible work environment."
Mengelkoch said there have been numerous experiences during the health crisis where shopping at Safeway has made her uncomfortable. One time, she noticed six to eight teenagers running around the store, going up and down the isles — regardless of the one-way signs used to help with physical distancing — without masks.
She also had conversations with employees and while some said they'd prefer people wear masks, others avoided the subject.
After she expressed her concern to the store manager and was unsatisfied with the answer, she decided to protest.
June 15 was her first day outside of the store and Mengelkoch said she received varying responses. She brought a paper to hand out that explained the importance of protecting workers by wearing masks during the pandemic, and encouraged those who agreed to speak to the Safeway manager.
"Safeway's employees are essential workers who deserve to be protected. They are on the front lines for all of us. We customers have to spend only a short time in the store, but they are exposed to all of us all day long," the handout read. "The Lake Oswego Safeway store occupies one of the largest and most valuable pieces of property in downtown Lake Oswego. They should be the 'go-to' store for everyone in the area. But their cavalier attitude about their workers' health and that of their customers is insulting to all of us who value the idea of a nearby store that listens to local people."
Mengelkoch said the majority of people who saw her outside of the store ignored her. Others were nice, while a few hurled invectives.
"It brings out really strong emotions in people," Mengelkoch said. "This is not a radical thing to do. It's shocking to me that it's considered controversial."
Her husband Kent Nerburn posted on Nextdoor and Facebook about Mengelkoch's actions and she said they received many mixed responses.
Lake Oswego resident Scott Handley commented on the Nextdoor post notifying the couple that he sent a tweet to Safeway.
"@Safeway Thank you for store traffic flow measures but why aren't you requiring #facemasks to protect the health of your employees and customers. Everyone should #WearAMask. The time is now to #SaveLives #COVID19," Handley said in his tweet.
Other people said Mengelkoch should shop elsewhere.
"That's not the point. I shouldn't have to go somewhere else and I do go elsewhere," Mengelkoch said.
"Well, it's not the Edmund Pettus bridge and her vigil is lonely, but I'm incredibly proud of my wife, Louise, for standing up for the workers at our local supermarket," read Nerburn's Facebook post. "Despite the fact that a certain baby-stepping, sippy-cupping very stable genius has made masks into a political issue rather than a public health issue, people's lives are at stake."
Mengelkoch plans to protest once a day until Safeway or the city responds. She said her next stop is to contact the City Council and ask why Lake Oswego isn't requiring masks.
"It's all about political leadership because if the city of Lake Oswego would require them, it would be a level playing field for all the businesses," Mengelkoch said. "It shouldn't require courage to just take the advice of health experts and it's not like we have to wear masks forever. If we do it now, it doesn't hurt that's for sure."
The assistant store manager and customer service at the downtown Lake Oswego Safeway declined to comment and referred the Review to a corporate representative, who said Safeway requires employees to wear masks while on shift but not customers.
"Out of care for our associate and customer health and safety we have installed plexiglass shields, greatly enhanced our cleaning processes, implemented social distancing measures throughout the stores, implemented special hours for our elderly and immune-compromised customers, and are currently offering contact-free delivery," said Jill McGinnis, director of communications and public affairs for Safeways in Oregon and Southern Washington, in an email to the Review. "We have also been monitoring CDC and state guidelines daily for their recommendations. Currently, these guidelines recommend customers wear a mask. We have therefore placed in-store signage passing along this recommendation to our customers. The majority of our customers are making the choice to follow the recommendation."
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