Shopping at 4 a.m.: no lines, no hassle, no problem

A visit to the aisles with Toronto's early morning grocery shoppers

Taylor Trudel shops for fruits and vegetables at the Sobeys at Broadview and Mortimer Avenues at 4:25 a.m. on May 29, 2019. Amanda Gibb/Toronto Observer

Taylor Trudel, 23, walks along the produce aisle, her black shopping basket swinging lazily at her side. The voice of Canadian singer Bryan Adams floats down softly from the speakers, not quite loud enough to drown out the buzzing of the fluorescent lights. Trudel reaches her hand under the spraying mist of the produce shelf and carefully places some lettuce in her basket.

Trudel balances her job as a supervisor at cosmetics retailer Lush with working various jobs in the music industry: she’s a booking agent, artist manager, and talent buyer.  In total, she works 90 hours a week and struggles to find time to grocery shop outside the odd hours of the night. She started shopping at the Sobeys near Broadview and Mortimer Avenues after recently moving to the area. 

“I like being by myself. I live alone, I like to shop alone.”

– Taylor Trudel

“I like the quiet,” she says. “I have a lot of social anxiety, so it’s nice I don’t have to talk to or look at as many people at that time. I like being by myself. I live alone, I like to shop alone.”

Trudel says she loves the option of self-checkout because it limits her interaction with people even further.

“Surprisingly, there are usually people (in the store). It’s not busy, but there are people,” she says of her overnight visits.

On this recent visit, only one cashier stood behind a conveyer belt and lighted sign, and two men stocked the shelves and faced the labels of canned goods toward the aisle. A couple laughed with each other while browsing for chips.

Although there are a number of 24-hour grocery stores in Toronto, most operate on regular hours. Many of these stores hire overnight workers to clean and stock shelves.

Aaron Switzer, 29, worked the night shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the Metro at Pharmacy and Eglinton Avenues in 2013.

“By then (4 a.m.) if I was done stocking and facing the store I could just hide somewhere and try to nap,” he says.

Switzer’s main motivator was the extra $1.50 an hour on his $10.25-an-hour salary and the fact that he would usually be awake at that time anyway. But for Switzer, staying up to work was harder than staying up for leisure. He only worked for a few months before quitting.

Trudel feels the opposite about her trips to the grocery store.

Taylor says that 4 a.m. is one of the only times she gets silence. “It doesn’t feel unnatural to be up so late or early,” she says.

Every few days, Taylor walks alone down her deserted street. Because she’s seldom home due to her restrictive work schedule, she finds that she constantly needs to restock food that has spoiled.

“I’m a vegan, so that means I’m constantly buying fresh vegetables,” she says.

On this night, Taylor loaded up her basket with leafy greens and orange peppers and stopped to pick up a bag of carrots. The beeping of the scanner permeated the quiet storefront.

With her plastic shopping bags in hand, Trudel stepped out into the cool night. Anxious to prep her meals for the work day, she swiftly made her way home.

“Being awake at 4 a.m. has taught me that I love my own company,” she says.


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Posted: Jun 10 2019 12:06 pm
Filed under: Features Toronto at 4 a.m.