The Safeway on 33rd Street in Saskatoon is a smaller, neighbourhood grocery store. Staff and customers know each other here.
On Thursdays, the store makes a few little changes to make it even more inclusive.
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., staff turn the lights down, cut the intercom and refrain from rolling carts around. It’s called sensory shopping and it caters to people with sensory processing disorders such as autism.
“It’s quite easy for people to pop out to get bread, milk, bananas without thinking twice. Yet for a lot of people, these are challenges that they face on a day to day basis,” said senior grocery clerk Jeffrey Seckinger.
“If we can accommodate them in some small way, I think it’s worthwhile.”
A grocery store can feel like an assault on the senses for people with sensory processing disorders.
“The ceilings are high and that creates sort of an echo, and just the way the building is built, it amplifies the sound,” said Carol Tebay, development co-ordinator for Autism Services of Saskatoon.
The buzzing of overhead lights is easy to miss for most people, but for some, it’s the only thing they can focus on.
The quieter atmosphere also makes it easier to see if someone might need some help, Tebay said. She said the helping hand doesn’t have to be extended by an employee, it can be a simple exchange in the aisle.
A few words — a simple “how can I help?” — might be all that’s needed to make someone more comfortable, she said.
Some Safeway regulars without any sensitivities have also noticed the change and said they’re pleased.
Leah Brisdon’s real estate office is across the street from Safeway. He’s been a customer for about 50 years, since he was a boy.
“I think people get lost in the shuffle. We’re so busy everyone’s running all over.”
The quiet, more intimate grocery setting makes it easier for staff to see who needs help. It also starts a conversation.
“That’s part of what we’re losing in society is we’re forgetting about people,” he said.
Autism Services is offering Silent Santa and Sensitive Santa opportunities for families who wouldn’t even consider visiting the traditional mall Santa. Grocery stores and organizations offer similar services in Regina.