Dearborn's Alcamo's put customers first during pandemic

Dearborn-based Alcamo's Market reopened its doors to the public on May 22 after nearly two months of offering curbside service only. As an essential business, the 55-year-old market could have stayed open through that entire period, but owner Emily Chimento says she was concerned for her customers' safety.


"You would see the fear in the customers' faces ... and your heart goes out to them because you just want to be there for them," she says.


Chimento notes that the long-lived business has many older customers, and its narrow aisles make it harder to implement social distancing procedures. So she created a new website for customers to browse, offering an illustrated list of the cuts available at the store's fresh meat counter and some of the market's other signature products.


"We're old-school," Chimento says. "We're reinventing our business as the pandemic keeps continuing, and that's all you can do."


She says her business declined by about 75% during the curbside period, and while the store experienced healthy traffic over Memorial Day weekend, business is still "not the same" as it was pre-pandemic. Chimento has also struggled with staffing losses, as her staff has dwindled from 15 to three. Many employees have chosen not to return to work, at least temporarily, with some citing safety concerns. Chimento hopes they return eventually, but she says she "can't blame them for being afraid."


"It just depends on your personality and how you feel about what's happening in society," she says. "Some people may not physically be sick, but maybe emotionally it's bothering them. You can't take that from somebody."


Chimento has also struggled to find loans or other financial assistance to help her through this difficult time for her business. She applied for a federal Payroll Protection Program loan but has yet to hear back.


"We haven't been recognized for doing anything that we've been doing, which is kind of heartbreaking," Chimento says. "But we don't do it for the recognition. We do it because we care about the people in the community."


Chimento says the lack of financial support has been especially frustrating because she and her staff have worked hard to continue providing service for customers, including seniors and many regular customers who are in medical professions. The store offers a 10% discount for all seniors and veterans. But even under the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, Chimento's top priority is still doing what she can to keep offering a high-quality experience for her clients.


"If it's harder on me, I don't mind," she says. "I just want to make sure that the customers are happy and they have something for themselves and their families and their kids."


Alcamo's may be open to the public again, but its future is far from certain. Chimento says that she and all other "smaller-end businesses" she knows are worried about the possibility of having to close their business due to the pandemic.


"It's just difficult. There's no way around it," she says. "Society's changing and you need to move along with those changes and hope that you'll be successful."


Read more articles by Patrick Dunn.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere