Central Saanich Thrifty’s daily manager Don Hay at the store’s first ever Sensory Friendly hour. (Courtesy of Kellie Wing)

Central Saanich Thrifty’s gets glowing reviews for its Sensory Friendly shopping

Lights dimmed, music killed for an hour once a week

Following lots of interest from the community, the Thrifty Foods store in Central Saanich has now launched their Sensory Friendly hour.

The brainchild of the store’s daily manager Don Hay, the hour sees lights dimmed by 50 per cent, intercom calls stopped and even check-out beeps switched off. Shoppers report a music-free, peaceful purchasing experience, especially appreciated by people with sensory sensitivities.

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A relative suggested a sensory friendly initiative following a trip to Disneyland. It got him thinking.

“My son is autistic and while he is fine going out and shopping, a lot of people in his circle can’t,” says Hay.

Although the store isn’t really designed for quiet, Hay found the company responsive to the idea of a more relaxed shopping hour and so he embarked on a journey to organize the logistics and consult with staff to make the endeavour happen.

Thanks to the team effort of colleagues and management, working practices have been adjusted and staff act as greeters, explaining the concept to customers.

The first sensory hour was on May 15 at 6 p.m. and the store reports positive feedback from shoppers.

“It went really well. It was weird to see the store so quiet,” says Hay with a laugh. “We started to realize other things like the noise the cashier’s drawer makes and the noise of the coins.”

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Noises like the jangling of loose change might not register with most shoppers but for people with sensory sensitivities, the shopping experience can be a whirlwind of noise and jarring sounds.

The hour demonstrated the amount of noise and light inherent in the modern supermarket experience. Even the cashiers reported noticing the brightness of the lights once they were back on.

Hay explains the hour wasn’t only enjoyed by people with social anxieties, as he received positive feedback from two migraine sufferers and customers who just prefer a more peaceful experience.

The store had planned to run a bi-monthly sensory friendly hour, but after the positive interest from the community the store now offers it every Wednesday evening.

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“It’s about being as inclusive as can be and giving people options. It’s for those who have a hard time with sound or lights and it gives them a quieter time to shop. It gives people one extra option in how they choose to shop,” says Hay.

The Central Saanich store is located at 7860 Wallace Dr. The Sensory Friendly hour runs Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information visit thriftyfoods.com.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

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