“It was easy to do,” says the store director. “We’re happy to do it.”
Six days after we told you about Kristin Jackowski and her petition to encourage Target to implement autism-friendly checkout lanes in their stores, the Plymouth Meeting mom says she still hasn’t heard from the big-box conglomerate. But one Delaware County supermarket has already made the change.
Paul Kourtis is the store director of the brand new ShopRite on Edgmont Avenue in Brookhaven, which opened less than three weeks ago.
When Kourtis got wind of Jackowski’s petition, he didn’t quite get it at first. “What’s the big deal?” he says he wondered. After all, if you’re not the parent of an autistic child, you might not comprehend just how difficult the checkout lanes of a store can be, especially with all of the waiting and the candy and other junk in easy reach.
“People think I’m talking about a temper tantrum,” says Jackowski, whose daughter NavyAnna is on the autism spectrum. “What I’m talking about is much worse than that.” Other parents of autistic children confirmed for us the frustrations of store checkouts.
Kourtis investigated and quickly learned that one of the most helpful things he could do would be to replace the candy in the checkout with “sensory friendly” items like Play-Doh, rattles, and small puzzles, one of the key changes requested in the petition. And while Target told Philly Mag that a change like that would require lots of planning and design work, Kourtis was able to do it in a matter of days, debuting an aisle at the store on Wednesday morning.
“I brought it to the attention of the store owner, Pat Burns, and he immediately gave me the go-ahead,” Kourtis tells us, adding that ShopRite will also be working to educate store employees on autism. “I just merchandized the aisle correctly with sensory-friendly objects. No candy whatsoever. It was easy to do. We’re happy to do it. I have 18 checkouts at the store. If I lose one for a good cause, that’s perfectly OK.”
Kourtis says that he’s already had a number of customers recognize the autism puzzle-piece symbol that he’s used to help identify the aisle.
“They’re going crazy for it,” he says. “Even if you don’t have a child who is autistic, everybody knows a child who is. People think it’s a great idea. Anything to provide our customers with a safe and friendly shopping experience, I say let’s do it.”
Due to a hectic schedule — in an addition to taking care of her three kids, Jackowski works nights in the restaurant industry — she says she won’t be able to get to the store until Sunday.
“But I can’t wait to go in there and give hugs,” she says. “I’m like over the moon and sobbing like a maniac. It’s a great example, and I hope other companies follow suit.”