The Essentials: 'Hugger' Robyn Habedank missing her gas station customers
Editor’s note: Several residents have risked their own safety and/or overcome personal obstacles in order to help keep the community going during the coronavirus pandemic. This series provides a glimpse into their lives and work. They are ... The Essentials.
Robyn Habedank used to have customers lined up outside the door of All in All almost every morning at 6 a.m., waiting for the downtown Frazee gas station to open so they could get their coffees and donuts. Business would keep her hopping throughout the day, but she was never too busy to give a friendly hug to a familiar customer.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic. Before stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules.
“Now, sometimes I wait an hour before my first customer comes in,” Habedank said in a phone interview in mid-April. “During the week it’s OK, sometimes you only wait 15 minutes for your first customer … Weekends is when it’s really bad.”
Habedank, a Perham High School graduate who has lived in the lakes area all her life, has been working at All in All for the past four years. Her close friend, Kari Grewing, said Habedank is a great employee there. The two have known each other for about 15 years and have been coworkers for much of that time.
“She’s always willing to help out,” Grewing said of Habedank. “She always likes to joke around with the customers. She treats you just like family, whether you are or not. That’s how she’s always been.”
With fewer customers coming in now, and social distancing guidelines to adhere to, Habedank has had to completely adjust how she interacts with customers.
“I’m a hugger,” she said with a laugh, adding with disappointment that she can’t do that anymore, at least for a while.
“She can’t hug people anymore,” said Grewing. “That’s definitely changed.”
Habedank said she first noticed a change in business at All in All around mid-March, when Frazee High School closed.
“I think once the kids weren’t allowed to go to school, I think that’s when it kind of hit home. That’s when people started to not come in,” Habedank said. “The kids weren’t coming in to get candy. That’s when we noticed it a lot. Then it got slower and slower.”
As customer numbers dipped, All in All had to adjust its hours and some of its procedures. It closes an hour earlier, at 10 p.m. The Hot Stuff Pizza inside the station started opening late and closing earlier, and making less to-go food to cut down on food waste. These days, call-in orders are encouraged.
“We do bring orders to the car. We are willing to take that step,” Habedank said.
Overall, Habedank’s job duties have remained the same, but with more cleaning and fewer customers. Running the cash register, checking the coffee, making pizzas (and now bringing them out to customers in their cars) — all the normal aspects of the gas station are still there.
“We just do a lot more cleaning, more sanitizing ... The door handles on everything, the counters … the coffee handle,” Habedank said. “Everything that someone touches we try to wipe every hour or every two hours.”
“We still do everything that we did before,” she said. “We just have more time on our hands now.”
The gas pumps are wiped down, too, and there are rubber gloves and paper towels near the pumps for customers to use. Almost all of the employees wear masks now, and some wear gloves. Habedank uses both.
“We’re doing what we can to keep up and everybody safe,” she said.
She admits that the stress of slow business at work, shortened hours, and not being able to interact with customers the way she likes to has taken a mental and emotional toll on her. Talking with friends helps her cope.
“We talk about the social distancing and what will happen,” Grewing said of the conversations they’ve had.
But more than anything, what’s affected Habedank most about the pandemic is the separation it’s created between herself and her family. She misses seeing her mom, she said, and her aunts. She does have her daughter, and the two have found comfort in spending more time together. They try to get out of the house in whatever ways they can.
“We’ll go for a drive and we’ll go at night and we’ll count deer,” she said. “I went outside for a week and I cleaned up the yard … Just day by day, we find something different (to do).”
Taking it “day by day” is the quote that Habedank keeps turning back to right now. She knows that every day is going to be different, but she also knows the day is coming where she can see — and more importantly, hug — her friends, family and favorite customers again.
The essentials of Robyn Habedank
Title: All in All/Sinclair Station Attendant
Job duties: “I do two different shifts. Some days I open; when I do that, I come in, I get the till going, the coffee going, make sure the store’s looking alright before the customers come in.”
The impact of social distancing: “I’m a hugger. I love to give people hugs,” she said, but she’s refraining from doing that for now. She’s also wearing a mask and gloves at work, and sanitizing everything much more often, about every hour or two. At home, she’s helping her daughter cope with the pandemic, and she misses interacting with other family members: “I miss my mom, I miss my aunts. I miss seeing them.”
What you’ve done to cope: “I talk to my friends,” she said. She also spends more time outside and with her daughter, trying to find new things to do: “Just day by day, find something different.”
What you’ll remember most about this time: “How much family means. How much your friends really mean when you can’t be around them.”
Favorite quote: “Take it day by day. That’s all you can do, day by day. Every day is going to be different. Every day is going to give you new problems. Always keep that smile on your face.”