Clear Choices

By Debra Levy

So, when Hurricane Isaias came through Virginia earlier this month, he deposited hundreds of gallons of water in my basement. His parting gift led me to venture out to my local hardware chain store in search of a generator that could power a wet vac, just in case the electricity went out.

I’ve been retail-deprived since the COVID crisis began, opting to do most necessary shopping beyond groceries online. So when I set foot into my neighborhood Lowes for the first time this year, the differences the pandemic had wrought were clear. Well, almost clear. I say this because just about everywhere I went in the store that required human interaction was protected by clear barriers. Whether you call them shields, sneeze guards, body guards or something else, they have become indispensable in retail and consumer environments.

The condition of this one shocked me. I couldn’t tell what type of plastic (plexiglass, acrylic, etc.) it was, but it was scratched, cloudy and it didn’t look clean. And the sound of my voice bounced off it and reverberated right back toward me. I couldn’t see through it and could hardly hear the cashier. The panels at the other stations did not look much better.

Glass would have been a much better choice for the shield. Glass is much harder and generally more durable. It doesn’t yellow nor cloud up. Most importantly, it is easier to clean and keep clean.

Why all the plexiglass, acrylic and plastic? Well, it’s generally less expensive and was plentiful until the plexiglass shortage began. It was easy to get and could be installed by “handymen” who weren’t necessarily glaziers.

But its life span is much shorter than that of glass. The units I saw were most likely less than three months old and already at the end of their useful lives. Companies that replace these guards would be well served to sell their customers on glass rather than plastic at replacement time.

Until COVID, jobs like this were almost a nuisance. Shops did them, but their margins were low. Now it’s time to adapt. If retailers can do this work in bulk and couple it with ongoing inspection and replacement programs, they become worthwhile. Glass, it seems, continues to be integrally entwined with the pandemic crisis.

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