Supermarkets don’t stock sources of inspiration on their shelves, or aim to soothe customers’ fears with their public address announcements. Those mostly concern juice spills and paper towel sales.
With everyone wearing masks to protect each other during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to even see a smile in supermarkets these days. The ShopRite in Brooklawn, Camden County, doesn’t seem any different at first.
“Bakery, call Line One,” one speaker said on a recent morning. “Maintenance. Trash bags. Aisle 16,” said another.
But when Dan Babcock, the store’s longtime assistant dairy manager, picked up the phone to make an announcement, he was selling both orange juice — “we all need our vitamin C during these times” — and hope.
“Hey, everybody, just a friendly reminder about our social distancing,” Babcock said. “I know the governor has decided to open up parks. Unfortunately for us, everything stays the same here.”
Babcock went on to remind customers to wear their masks and to follow the new one-way aisles.
“It’s our best defense against the coronavirus,” he said over the loudspeaker. “As always, thanks for shopping here. God bless and keep the faith.”
Babcock, 57, grew up in Gloucester City and lives in Washington Township with his wife. He’s been working at the ShopRite for 21 years. He can be tough when he has to, enforcing new frozen-vegetable rules that customers aren’t crazy about (they only can buy four bags at a time).
“Everybody’s getting on board," he said. “It’s a learning process.”
Sometimes, customers will hear Babcock while he’s working at the store and recognize him: “Hey, you’re the voice of ShopRite.” But some people don’t want personality in their supermarket announcements.
“When I get tired of hearing my own voice, I know it’s time to make a new message,” he said.
Customer Kim Chiodi of Gloucester City said she laughed in the store last month when Babcock said, “Here we are, in Year Five of the quarantine,” because that’s what it felt like. She called it “respectful humor.”
“He’s definitely the calming voice that customers have come to appreciate during tough times,” Chiodi said.
Usually no one gives Babcock a script, and even when he does have one, he still freestyles. He’ll even sing a little, and throw in a few digs about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. On each Sept. 11, he leads a moment of silence. On Friday, he gave a shout-out to the store’s Sunshine Club, whose members make care packages and deliver them to nursing homes.
“It’s really a great thing that they’re doing,” he told the customers. “God bless, everybody. Take care. And keep the faith.”
While many employees make announcements at the store, few go deeper than “Good morning, shoppers.”
“Some people definitely don’t want to do it,” he said. “They almost get stage fright.”
Sandy Brown, director of media relations for several ShopRite stores, said each supermarket is big enough to fit every personality, the introverts who don’t want to interact with customers as well as employees like Babcock.
“You just try to find the right seat on the bus for everybody," she said. “He started out on night crew, when there’s no customers at all.”
Now, Babcock thrives on them.
“We get regulars in here all the time," he said. “We talk about sports and what’s going on. And now you can’t tell if somebody’s smiling at you or what. That’s what I miss the most.”