For Michael Garontakos, home life slowed dramatically during the pandemic. The opposite was true for life at work.

SHIELDS, Mich.—Michael Garontakos’ memory of life during the COVID-19 pandemic is marked by how his life at work sped up while his homelife slowed to a crawl. 

A department supervisor at the Shields, Michigan, Home Depot, Garontakos said the pandemic affected his work life a lot, starting with just needing to wear a mask and then influencing how many customers visited the store. 

“We have had a massive influx of foot traffic at work, online ordering went through the roof, we have a lot more supply chain problems, getting products, backorders, etc., and every week or so it seemed like we were hiring new faces to help with the increased traffic and sales,” Garontakos told The ‘Gander. “The entire situation was very fluid and new things were happening daily.”

Things changed daily, Garontakos said. One day, the store could sell patio furniture and paint. On another day, those areas of the store had to be taped off because they were told they couldn’t sell “nonessential goods” to avoid an influx of foot traffic. 

Employees were on edge, never knowing what changes would be implemented next. 

“I remember the night that they announced that we couldn’t sell ‘nonessential goods’ starting the next day, the line for the paint department was nearly out the door for the rest of the day,” he reflected. “It was absolutely insane.” 

But one positive, at least on the retail front? The pace has picked up for Garontakos’ store, something he enjoys. 

He says that people have also changed during the course of the pandemic. In the beginning, people were upset when they couldn’t find what they were shopping for, unaware of how the pandemic was affecting supply lines behind the scenes. That, too, has since changed. 

“I work in the lumber department and people were not used to not being able to just find lumber,” Garontakos said. “It was quite difficult working through conversations with customers and honestly not having an answer when they ask, ‘Where is all your lumber?’ However, it seems that more recently, even if something is on backorder, people are more aware of that now so they understand and do not get as upset about it.”

When it came to safety measures such as masks and other precautions, Garontakos said most have been receptive to taking the time to help themselves and others be safe. He also had great things to say about how his store has handled safety measures for employees during the pandemic. 

“They required masks for us, and still do, they changed customer-facing hours,” he said. “We had a social distancing captain, stickers on the floor showing 6 foot at all the checkouts, we have cleaning checklists we have to do every couple hours, like disinfecting desks, breakrooms, etc. They added plastic barriers in front of the registers and other areas, they gave us all additional time off, the list goes on.”

As fluid and fast-paced as things were at work for Garontakos, things were quite the opposite at home. Garontakos said he and his wife essentially took the year off from seeing people. 

“We sadly decided to only go to work and home and ‘quarantine’ ourselves from seeing anyone else,” he said. “We felt it was the right thing to do. I honestly never really felt isolated, I get along great with my wife, and we have a ton of animals, so never really felt lonely or anything.”

Garontakos said he believes there is a sense of optimism now with vaccines being available to people. He said he is vaccinated, as are his wife, family, and most friends, and encourages others to be vaccinated. 

“If getting the vaccine lessens the chance that myself or a loved one can get hospitalized and die over this, I cannot see a reason why anyone would not want to get it,” he said.