Grocery stores overwhelmed during corona crisis

Supermarkets working hard to keep up with demand
March 18, 2020

The last two weeks are unlike anything Lenny Pollitt has ever seen at Lloyd’s Market on Savannah Road in Lewes. 

“It’s truly unbelievable. I don’t know what other word to use. It’s surreal,” said Pollitt, son-in-law of Lloyd Purcell, who founded the market nearly 50 years ago. It’s beyond anything the family has experienced with blizzards, nor’easters and the threat of hurricane.

Pollitt said shoppers are desperately searching for meats, milk, paper products and other essentials as the fear of quarantining due to COVID-19 sweeps through the Cape Region. Pollitt said the staff has been trying to ration the meats to stretch until the next delivery.

“It’s going as fast as we’re putting it out,” he said.

At G&E Supermarket in Ocean View, owner Gerald Hocker agreed. He said he ran out of ground beef for the first time in his 49 years owning a store.

“This is like doing July business but with a March staff,” he said, noting he’s added some of his regular summer employees to help with the influx of patrons. “Customers are understanding and are being very patient. They know we’re doing the best that we can.”

Both stores are facing shortages when it comes to paper products.

Pollitt said the staff has had to set aside some products to ensure the store remains clean.

“We’re trying to clean as much as possible,” he said. “We’re definitely trying to be proactive in this whole situation.”

Pollitt gets daily updates from his wholesaler on what is available for the next delivery. He said much of the issue is manpower.

“They had a rep come out to all the stores and told no one to panic,” he said. “They have the product, but it’s slow coming out to the stores.”

Hocker said truck schedules are all off, and he doesn’t know when a truck will come in or what will be on it.

“We’ll order 20 of something and get four,” he said. “This hit so fast. Bread companies aren’t used to this volume. Dairies are geared up for March business, so it will take them a few weeks to catch up.”

Hocker said he’s discontinued his weekly ads for the time being because he knows he cannot guarantee the products will be in stock. He said the hoarding of products is unlike anything he’s ever seen.

“It’s hard to believe that someone who usually uses a dozen rolls of toilet paper in the summer season is now buying it 100 at a time,” he said. “The buying habits have created a problem.”

Empty shelves are now a common sight at dozens of supermarkets in the Cape Region.

Weis Markets has changed the hours at all its stores to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in order to give its staff time to clean and restock the shelves. Signs on the doors and in aisles set a limit on the quantity a shopper may purchase of certain products.

Weis has also temporarily shutdown online ordering with curbside pickup and home delivery.

Hocker said online ordering and curbside pickup are continuing at his store, and so far he hasn’t put restrictions on high-demand products.

Some stores are taking proactive steps to aid the elderly and others who are at a higher risk of infection from COVID-19. Giant (as of March 20) and Dollar General have restricted the first hour of operation to at-risk shoppers. Acme has reserved 7 to 9 a.m., Monday through Friday, for senior citizens and at-risk members of the community. 

Dollar General has also adjusted hours to close one hour early and is limiting paper products, hand sanitizer and wipes to three per person.

Redner’s Markets, with stores in Milford, Georgetown and one planned in Lewes, have also adjusted hours due to the overwhelming traffic.

“We are taking these steps so that we can effectively maintain stock and clean our stores while also allowing for our associates to properly get rest, as the demand upon them has been great,” said Ryan Redner, president and CEO.

Employees at all supermarkets are working hard, Hocker said.

“Everybody is doing all they can,” he said. “They’re working long hours and working hard. We just need to get through this. I can’t stress enough how understanding customers have been.”

Weis Markets announced March 21 it will increase its employees’ wages by $2 per hour while the company continues to serve the community during the COVID-19 crisis. 


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