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‘Sensory Friendly’ shopping experience in Arnprior

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Mark Harrison knows the struggles some people face in public places.

“My family and I are aware of sensory issues, with both my boys being on the autism spectrum.”

Harrison says loud noises, like vacuums and power tools can leave his two sons Jacob, 4, and Liam, 2, disoriented. Creating a safe space for his boys and others with sensory issues is something the new grocery store owner wanted to try.

“It was something that just kind of made sense.”

Harrison became the franchise owner of the Arnprior No Frills store in November. Since then, he’s tried to do several things to make the shopping experience better for customers, but it was one of the store’s employees Carol Greer, who came up with the idea of a “sensory friendly shopping experience” after seeing something similar online.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” says Greer.

The No Frills store held its first sensory shopping experience on February 4, from 8-10am. For the two hours, lights in the store were dimmed, music was turned off, announcements and pages over the store PA system were also eliminated and both customers and staff were asked to refrain from wearing strong scents.

“It was definitely eye opening for me,” says Harrison, “a lot of people were saying I suffer from chronic migraines… or I have anxiety so I don’t feel comfortable shopping regular hours.”

After the successful event, Harrison decided to do it again this week and has now added a second, evening experience, Tuesday February 12.

“People said I can’t make it Monday morning, can you try and evening? So we’re trying that just to see what the results are.”

Working at the checkout counter Greer has a chance to speak with customers on the way out,

“The response has been really great, people have been coming in specifically during this shopping period to be able to experience it and we’ve had wonderful feedback.”

Greer says the quiet experience is having an impact on her too,

“I kind of like the down time, the calmness and I’m sure other coworkers do too.”

Harrison says right now he has no concrete plans to expand the sensory experience instead he’s waiting to hear from customers to see if it’s something they want.

“We’ll see the impacts. I really want to hear from my employees and see what their feedback is as well as from customers, and we’ll go from there.”

The next sensory friendly experience will be from 6:30-9pm Tuesday February 12.  

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We love Ottawa, and we want to help you make the most of living in the capital.

Ottawa Magazine is launching a new membership program, with front-of-the-line access to events, special offers at cultural institutions, and exclusive access to one-of-a-kind food and drink experiences at the city’s best restaurants. And of course, a subscription to our award-winning magazine.

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