GREAT BARRINGTON — Kim Widener did not anticipate her online food delivery business to launch amid a national emergency and a viral epidemic.
But starting the week of Monday, March 16, roughly two weeks before her expected launch date, Widener found herself in the aisles of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington, filling out upward of a dozen online orders made to her business.
Widener’s business, The Berkshire Valet, based out of Salisbury, Connecticut, is a grocery delivery service that serves residents in parts of southern Berkshire County, parts of Litchfield County in Connecticut and parts of Columbia County in New York.
With the state and federal government suggesting residents keep their social distance from others to combat the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, Widener sees her newly-launched venture as a way to reduce the amount of shoppers in stores, as well as providing a public service to those at an increased risk of contracting the virus.
The plans for the business were originally tailored to fit a luxury service, but Widener’s business is adapting to meet the needs of today, with food insecurity being a concern for elderly residents, she says.
“Suddenly, this is not a luxury,” she said. “This is a necessity.”
Although there is no official partnership between Widener’s business and Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, all of the grocery shopping for The Berkshire Valet is done exclusively at the Great Barrington location by Widener and with the help of four other drivers and shoppers.
In the business’ first few days, Widener says she’s taken a lot of calls from the elderly population, or those caring for an elderly loved one.
“There are people who really need it, like people who are elderly, they are compromised one way or another,” she said. “If not by age, then possibly respiratory issues. It helps keep people out of grocery stores too.”
In light of the global pandemic, Widener’s business has decided to waive the normal delivery fee of $20 for orders up to $250, and will instead charge a flat fee of $10 per delivery to offset the cost of transportation and staffing. Based on recommendations of social distancing, Widener says the delivery rate will be applied through the end of March and possibly further into the future.
Widener initially had her eyes set on somewhat tight parameters of where the delivery service would be offered in Southern Berkshire County— specifically in Great Barrington, Egremont and Sheffield — but says she won’t be limiting orders that come in from the neighboring towns as well.
In one of her most recent shopping trips to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, she shopped for items for customers from New Marlborough and from Copake, New York. In the business’ first few weeks, Widener expects her business to have the capacity to shop and deliver for around 15 orders per day.
After filling out an online grocery list, customers have their requests honored by one of the dedicated shoppers at The Berkshire Valet. Payment is taken via credit card and customers are charged the amount paid at the register, plus a corresponding delivery fee. A notice of 24 hours is asked for from customers, in order to help Widener plan her day, or to call things in ahead of time.
Widener says she doesn’t mind making several daily trips to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, citing her passion for shopping. But that isn’t stopping her from taking her own precautions during the coronavirus pandemic.
In online posts made by the business, Widener says she will not participate in any “hoard purchasing” orders. On occasion, Widener has had to look for grocery items at the Berkshire Food Co-op, due to the scarcity of certain items.
“I just try to be as careful as I can,” she said. “I wipe down the shopping cart and the steering wheel when I get into the car. I’m an overachiever as a shopper. I was surprised to find that nobody had ground turkey. We’re learning as a business, too, how to do these things.”
Currently staffed with four employees in addition to Widener, she says there was a great response to a recent advertisement she posted online. She plans on bringing on more drivers and shoppers in the near future, with inquiries expected to rise.
Delivery times include Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about The Berkshire Valet or to place an online order, visit Theberkshirevalet.com.