Bloodied store manager describes life in the age of COVID-19

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Samantha Clarke

This May 6, 2020 selfie by Samantha Clarke shows her bruised and bloodied face after she was assaulted by a shopper at the retail store she manages in Modesto, Calif. Despite the abuse and occasional threats, Clarke says she never expected to be sucker-punched and knocked to the floor by an angry shopper as happened earlier this month. (Samantha Clarke via AP)

For weeks Samantha Clarke calmly listened to the insults and threats directed daily at her and her employees by people who learned they couldn't enter the Modesto, California, store without wearing a mask and following other coronavirus-related rules.

But never, says the 17-year veteran of retail sales, did she expect she'd be sucker-punched and left with blood gushing from her battered face. Not until it happened recently after a customer was told the last above-ground swimming pool in stock had just been sold to someone else.

“I’ve been in retail my whole life. I’ve been at this particular job 17 years, and I've never heard of anyone being attacked, ever," Clarke said by phone one recent evening after finishing the night shift.

But in retrospect she said, perhaps she should have seen it coming.

“We had the normal upset customer from time to time, but rarely did someone lose their temper and cuss at us,” she said of life before the store she manages began operating under state-issued coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Now it's just daily, sometimes back to back to back,” she said.

After months of living with such restrictions, the level of stress among people clearly has reached a boiling point, and not just in California, said Rachel Michelin, the California Retailers Association's president and CEO.

“There's just a high level of frustration everywhere right now," Michelin said last week in words that seemed to presage the nationwide eruption of protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.