Busy, genial and well-stocked, Carnival Grocery is open for business

No, owner Arthur Paris does not understand bulk TP compulsion

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

"I am a little bashful," said Arthur Paris, owner of Oak Park's Carnival Grocery, as news reporters entered the Oak Park store Friday, March 20.

Nevertheless, just as crews from ABC 7 and Fox 32 finished setting up their cameras and microphones, Paris took his place in the spotlight. Recording with ABC 7 and commenting live on Fox, Paris talked about the impact Oak Park's shelter-in-place mandate has had on his business – the coverage was completed with total respect for social distancing practices.

"We have a community atmosphere and we are here to support each other," said Paris, commenting while on camera.

Paris and Carnival Grocery, 824 S. Oak Park Ave., caught media attention because of their careful and measured approach to addressing the coronavirus outbreak in the village. The independent grocery store has done four times its usual business over the past six days and yet, the establishment has a solid inventory of staples available daily and managed to keep customers satisfied.

 "We're holding up well," said Paris after the filming ended, "the most important thing to remember is we have groceries to sell."

He said it will continue to remain important for customers to avoid panicking during these unprecedented times. Items in the store may run out, but shortages will be brief.  Carnival is ordering assertively, and shelves are restocked daily.

He noted bread and milk have been most difficult to keep in adequate supply as customers have been quick to stock up. High-quality meat and produce have remained in consistent supply under increased customer demand.  As far as toilet paper goes, Paris is perplexed by the excess purchasing, noting a customer purchased a shopping cart full of single rolls just a few days ago.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Carnival Grocery has discontinued the use of their salad bar and self-serve prepared foods. Its delivery services to the elderly and disabled are still fully operational.

"Customers are really appreciative that we are able to get them in and out of the store as quickly and safely as possible," said Paris, "and that we do it in a relaxed and easy atmosphere."

Briana Wilson has been working as a checker at Carnival Grocery for nearly six months; she cheerfully greets customers as they walk through the door and carefully packs all grocery orders.

"Lines have been long, but people have been patient and nice about the situation we're in," said Wilson. "Actually, I think kindness is up among customers."

A descendant of Italian grocers, Paris has worked in the grocery business for nearly 25 years. After purchasing Carnival Grocery in 2014, he has been busy building up a positive reputation in Oak Park. Now, with the shelter in place order in effect, Paris's thoughtful approach to ordering, re-stocking and customer service is setting the standard for grocery stores in the time of COVID-19 madness. Still, the veteran grocer remains humble.

"It is gratifying to have your work appreciated," said Paris of the media coverage, "but independent businesses are part of the community and we are responsive to the community."

Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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