Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A team of Cantabrigians pulled together Shopsafely since the start of the coronavirus crisis and continues to improve it.

The grocery list is ready – milk, eggs, bread and toilet paper – but is a store open its usual hours? Does a store accept EBT cards? What about takeout from a restaurant? Is there contactless pickup or a delivery option?

Buying food is complicated during the stay-at-home days of Covid-19. A team of Cantabrigians – Jill Crittenden, Andrey Fedorov, Rebecca Xiong, Elif Hawkins and Ilan Levy – created shopsafely.us to help the community shop at local businesses. The website is a curated, crowd-sourced website with information on more than 300 grocery stores and restaurants, including store hours and order and delivery options.

Users can search the site by neighborhood, or by business type – grocery store, restaurant, pharmacy and others – and view them as a list or on a map. Businesses are rated by the precautions and protections they have in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, including curbside pickup, limiting in-store customers and senior-only shopping hours. Users can add more details such as a personal shopping options or bicycle delivery.

Workers at Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs in Harvard Square take efforts to keep takeout customers at a distance. (Photo: Marc Levy)

“It’s meant to be a resource for Cambridge and other cities,” Xiong said. “It’s already taking on a life of its own as people look for ways to stay safe.”

Similarly, the small-business group Cambridge Local First has just rolled out a searchable map on its homepage that shows open and closed businesses of all sorts, with the open ones filterable by whether they do delivery, takeout and online sales and whether they are running a fundraising campaign. It was put together largely by Cambridgeport’s Rachel Han, of the local firm OpenDataSoft, and the organization is working with the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts to extend it beyond Cambridge, said CLF’s chief executive, Theodora Skeadas.

Crowdsourced out to California

With Shopsafely, visitors have already added significant information for stores in their neighborhoods – there are locations listed in Somerville and Watertown, Boston, Medford and Chelsea, and even as far away as Minnesota and California.

Some store managers and owners have updated their business information directly after learning about the site from their customers.

“It’s completely open, and things change really fast,” Levy said. “We try to make sure the information is fresh.”

“It’s kind of like a Waze for food shopping, to help our local community find safe places to shop for groceries and find restaurants that are safely offering takeout and delivery,” said Tien-Yi Lee, who is helping the original team spread the word about the site.

The site’s development followed a circuitous but rapid route from concept to going live. The team came together because they felt local government wasn’t responding quickly enough to develop protective guidelines for grocery stores and restaurants during the early weeks of the Covid-19 stay-at-home order. They delivered their own masks and health guidelines translated into several languages. Eventually they turned to creating Shopsafely.

Team isn’t done

The team is planning for the long term, including making the website’s code open source and responding to feedback by developing new features.

“We recently heard from people that they’re having problems knowing which stores deliver,” said Xiong, who responded within days by adding delivery options.

The team hopes to add ways to share delivery tips and show which restaurants deliver produce to customers, Xiong said.

One issue that has concerned customers is the high fees third party websites can charge for restaurant delivery. Grubhub can charge a restaurant up to 30 percent of an order’s price, Levy said.

A policy order before the City council seeks to set a 10 percent cap on delivery commissions while the state’s stay-at-home order is in effect.

“A really important aspect is how much of a grassroots effort this is for everyone,” Levy said. “We want to promote local and independent stores and help the local economy; if a small restaurant goes away, the chance that it will come back is small.”