Hassett Hardware: Weighing What’s Right in Crisis

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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 essential for customers and employees to use to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. His business was deemed necessary 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 scary time,” 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.

Hassett has furloughed all employees who are 60 and older so they can receive unemployment benefits while they are out of the store. To Hassett, that’s part of taking care of his team.

For employees who are willing to staff the stores, Hassett has offered temporary pay raises, paid for team meals and allowed them to buy products at cost.

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 have remained high on a wide range of products.

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

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

A major problem he perceives, 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.

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