Grocery stores adapt to COVID-19 pandemic
Political theorist and philosopher Thomas Paine famously wrote:
“These are the times that try men’s souls” in the opening moments of his political pamphlet “The American Crisis.”
Local grocers may see fit to add the phrase “and store shelves.”
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has wrought changes on how many food store chains operate.
From store hours to best practices for employees and customers to availability of stock and services, grocery stores, a category deemed among “essential services and sectors” in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s state of emergency announcement of March 16, store chains GIANT Food Stores, Wegmans and Weis Markets are making efforts to keep pace with a fluid situation as the coronavirus continues to develop.
Dennis Curtin, spokesperson for Weis Markets, described as “tremendous” the demand for basic items such as canned vegetables, ground beef and chicken breasts in addition to the much publicized items such as bath tissues, household cleaners and hand sanitizer. Bananas continue to hold the top slot as the bestselling produce item, Curtin said.
“We are keeping up with demand,” Curtin said. “We have plenty of food to buy.”
Store hours have changed for all three local concerns.
According to store websites, Wegmans stores are now open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and Weis Markets are open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
GIANT Food Stores, in a letter posted by Nicholas Bertram, president of The GIANT Company, to the store website, noted the chain started March 17 to offer the option for adults 60 and older to shop 6 to 7 a.m. daily.
“During this time, community members in this age category can avoid crowded shopping to allow for better social distancing,” Bertram wrote. GIANT Food Stores are open until 10 p.m.
Those 60 years and older and those with serious chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Shoppers are restricted in their purchases of high-demand items in most stores.
Wegmans, according to the company website, has a two-item limit on purchases such as baby wipes and diapers; household cleaners including bleach and disinfecting wipes; boxes of cereal, milk, bananas, pasta and pasta sauce; toilet paper, tissues and paper towels and toothpaste.
Weis also has purchase restrictions in place including: a limit of four on disinfectant and antibacterial wipes and a two-limit purchase of items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizers, water, bleach, liquid and foam hand soap and powdered and shelf stable milk, as listed on its website.
Curtin described the limits as common sense, noting it is better to have 20 customers being able to buy two of needed items than one customer buying 20 of one item needed by many.
Grocery stores are also addressing customer concerns through cleaning practices and services available in stores.
Altered hours of operation at GIANT, Wegmans and Weis allow crews uninterrupted time to clean surfaces such as meat, seafood and deli counters, check out terminals and pin pads and address other high traffic areas.
Some services offered are changing as well. Grocery delivery and curbside pickup times are limited or suspended at storewide for some stores and/or limited at specific store locations.
Services in stores also have seen change. Wegmans has temporarily closed “all Market Café seating areas, in-store pubs, select Burger Bars, Amore and Next Door,” according to the company website.
In-store pharmacy hours also may have changed.
Earlier store closing hours also allow store employees more time to unload trucks, stock shelves and maintain store organization.
“They are starting their days early and finishing their days late,” Curtin said. “We are grateful and proud.
“They’ve been very impressive and risen to the challenge.”
See respective store websites and/or call for detailed information on store policies and available services, purchasing limits and with other questions.