Q&A: Michal Bressler, local pickle selling hero, and her experience working through COVID

(COVID has greatly affected everyone’s life in some way. None have been so brave against this virus as the essential workers. Cashiers and supermarket attendants have been the pandemic’s unsung heroes. Over Zoom, I interviewed my friendly local pickle seller, Michal Bressler, who stoicly staffed her Pickle People booth in the West Hempstead, NY, Western Beef through most of the pandemic. Michal is a ‘Zelenial,’ full-time college student who lives with her mom and imuno-compromised dad. We talked about her experience working pre-pandemic as well as during, and now, as things slowly return to normal.)

What was it like working at Pickle People pre-COVID?

It was actually very enjoyable! I do have long days though, I’m usually there from 9:30 to 6:30. The people are very sweet, the customers are very nice. The people who work there [too]. I happen to work alone inside of the booth, so it’s just me all day. But I talk to the other people who work inside the supermarket itself and they’re all very friendly. It’s, for the most part, a very calm job unless a lot of people come in at once and since it’s just myself that’s the only time it really gets busy.

Did you ever have to stop working due to COVID?

So there was a small point in time, I’d say about a month and a half where I wasn’t working because my father is …um… We’re very health-conscious of him because he has some health issues. So I didn’t feel comfortable working in a supermarket in the height of corona. I let her [my boss] know that I wasn’t comfortable working and other than me it’s really one other person that works so when I said that, she [my boss] closed. She’s like “Ah, if you’re not working I don’t have enough people.” It was a smarter decision because we weren’t getting a crazy amount of people once corona was really hitting. You know? And it was so many people in the supermarkets so she didn’t think it was wise to stay open, so she didn’t.

What has it been like working through COVID as compared to pre-COVID?

It’s definitely more difficult. The supermarket plays music so in general before COVID I had to speak on the louder side which is hard because I mumble. Now I’m wearing the heavy-duty mask and the music is playing, essentially nobody can hear me. I’ve learned to repeat myself so many times. It’s pretty ridiculous. A lot of the elderly people, even before we had to wear masks, they spoke very low, and quiet. Now with the masks, I can barely hear them. I’m literally leaning over the counter trying to hear people’s orders, that’s definitely difficult. Also, the masks have not been kind to my skin. When I’m working I’m tugging around these heavy things of pickles and I have a lot of sweat build up underneath the mask. It’s very uncomfortable. I’m like a mess of pickle and sweat.

Have you noticed a difference working there now as vaccines roll out?

A lot of people are a little bit more calm. We do free samples and stuff for pickles. In the height of COVID people were not taking them. People just wanted to get their pickles and go home. Now, people are more willing to take down their mask a little bit and try something, or if I can’t really hear them they’re willing to pull down their mask and give me their order. I noticed, which is really crazy, even in the height of COVID there were people who were not wearing masks in the supermarkets. Now there are, I’d say not a lot more but it’s definitely more significant.