Grocery diary: wrong-way shoppers, X marks the spot, in search of onions


Day staffers, and one spouse, share their shopping experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, April 17, 1 p.m., Adams Hometown Market, Deep River

Thankfully, there are few people here. Still, every time I go shopping around town now, I see someone I know well but haven’t seen in years (a symptom of living near where you grew up during a pandemic). We stop and chat awkwardly, wish good health, and carry on. Everything I want is stocked — meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, cheese, milk, etc. — but of course paper goods are low. There are no paper towels, but I do score six rolls of toilet paper. People seem to have a mutual understanding that they didn’t before. I exchange knowing glances and sad smiles with at least four people I don’t know. When I get to checkout, the cashier and I recognize each other. I ask her about her son, who has been quarantined in Brooklyn. She tells me she can’t wait for this to end, that some people are nicer than usual but that the pace in this normally quiet, small-town grocery store is far more frantic these days.

— Sten Spinella

Saturday, April 18, 7:10 a.m., Walmart, Lisbon

I wake up early, it’s time to restock the provisions. Walmart opens at 7 a.m. I need to be there. Arriving a few minutes after the opening, it is already busy. Looks like everyone else had the same idea. I learn later I missed the line waiting for the store to open.

Gov. Ned Lamont has not yet formally issued his order to wear masks. Looks like there is no need, with 90% of the patrons covered. I wear an N95, purchased years ago to safely visit a sick relative and discovered, forgotten, in a closet.

While shopping, I realize I missed an item and double back, spotting it on the shelf near the end of the aisle. I duck in and grab it. Eyes squint at me above cloth-covered faces. Then I realize I went the wrong way. With an apologetic shrug of the shoulders, I retreat.

When it seems things can’t get more bizarre, they do. In search of battered frozen fish, I stare at a largely empty display case. A worker is restocking a freezer a socially safe 6 feet away. A big guy, he towers over me, his mask tucked around his neck.

“Is this it?” I ask. “Or is there more frozen seafood I’m missing.”

“That’s it,” he says. “You’re not missin’ nothin’.”

Except my shopping cart. When I turn, it is gone. No, I was almost done! Panicked, I begin circulating the adjoining aisles, trying to be mindful of the one-way directions. Nothing. Expanding my search parameters, I head to produce. There it is. I recognize the cheap store-brand diet Coke where I tucked it away, the large bag of coffee.

Only now is the woman looking quizzically at the shopping cart.

“That’s mine,” I say.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s just that I’m so nervous, this whole thing,” she says, and I am afraid she might cry. “I wasn’t paying attention. Sorry.”

I nod. “No problem,” I say, lying. She scoops up the few things she had tossed in and, cradling them in her arms, goes searching for her cart.

I get the last few things I need and head to check out, applying hand sanitizer for about the 10th time since I got there and hoping she wasn’t infected.

− Paul Choiniere

Monday, April 20, 1 p.m., Big Y, Mystic

Shelves as they have been since this started are decimated. No eggs, little cheese or pasta, no paper towels, toilet paper or cleaning supplies and meat supplies are pretty thin. They do have plenty of produce. Only a handful of people not wearing masks. Lots of people clueless about one-way pattern despite signs and arrows on the floor. What is concerning is the three people working in the bakery area are not wearing masks even though they’re bringing out food to the shelves. I am sort of shocked.

— Joe Wojtas

Tuesday, April 21, 1 p.m. McQuade’s Marketplace, Mystic

Not crowded. Everyone wearing masks except two senior citizen shoppers. A few people confused by one-way arrows. Plenty of produce, meat and eggs and ice cream. Doesn’t look like they are out of anything. McQuade’s even has toilet paper and paper towels. Owner Michael McQuade is in the aisle wearing a mask and face shield and stocking a shelf. No disinfecting wipes but plenty of cans of a disinfectant called “claire” that says it not only kills bacteria but viruses such as HIV and herpes. I’m not joking. I buy one. One employee standing in the area where they process produce is not wearing a mask and is talking out though a large window to another employee where the shoppers are.

— Joe Wojtas

Tuesday, April 21, 2 p.m., Big Y, Old Lyme

Very few shoppers at this time. Carts are cleaned by friendly teens before each use. Constant mopping going on in the aisles. All but one shopper wearing masks. Shoppers generally following the one-way aisle setup but occasionally pass by within the 6-foot social distancing limit. One roll of paper towels and toilet paper available per customer. Produce is well stocked. Chicken case 1/3 full. No flour. Low supply of olive oil and other oils. Pasta section mostly empty except for a few boxes of elbows and linguine. Limited supply of rice. Condiment section not well stocked and limited supplies of frozen pasta. Butter and orange juice supplies low. Taco shells available but no salsa. We score ice cream this time; there was none last week.

— Bob Florin

Wednesday, April 22, 2 p.m., Walmart, Waterford

My first masked shopping experience. Need dog food that only Walmart sells, and figure I’d stock up on whatever Bob missed Tuesday. The store seems crowded. An employee stands at the entrance counting customers. Were shopping carts sanitized? Who knows. Inside, people don’t keep their distance or follow the arrows on the floor. Workers are set up in the middle of aisles, and people are taking their sweet time shopping. Even if I stand at the top of the aisle and wait for them to move along, somebody inevitably comes up behind me and “pushes” me to move along. Store has six-packs of Quilted Northern toilet paper, one per customer. No paper towels, hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes. Snag a bottle of bleach. Food seems fairly well stocked, but no flour. Hand sanitizer dispenser near the exit is nice to see. Come home and realize we only have two eggs. Might have to do without, because YUCK!

— Karen Florin

Wednesday, April 22, 4 p.m., Stop & Shop, Groton

See at least 10 people (mostly middle-aged men) walking in without masks on; they walk right in and no one says anything. There are arrows on the aisles that most people seem to follow, but it mostly seems that people leave their carts on the distance marker and walk around the aisle, reaching over other people and getting very close. Checkout lines are short with lots of markers for distancing. An announcement is repeating about distancing, temperature checks before shopping and wearing masks per the governor’s order. Poultry and produce stocks are good. The fresh seafood counter is closed but there is a lot of frozen seafood.

— Taylor Hartz

Wednesday, April 22, 4:15 p.m., Walmart, Groton

Most people wearing masks and gloves. Have to wait outside and be let in by an associate who is keeping count. Shopping carts are dripping with disinfectant. I go into the toy/entertainment aisles to shop for a co-worker’s children and they are SO crowded. People browsing around with shopping carts full of nonessential items, people shopping for TVs (like a lot of people with TVs in their carts) video games, Apple watches. Video games for Nintendo Switch pretty wiped out. One package of toilet paper discovered.

— Taylor Hartz

Various times, Big Y, Mystic

I try not to go every week, and stock up when I do.

I did try the senior hours one morning and that wasn’t so great. There was a line to get in across the Big Y parking lot, everyone 6 feet apart. But by the time the opening senior hour was over, the store was actually less crowded and more appealing.

There have been rolling shortages, milk was lightly stocked last time and I haven’t seen hand sanitizer for weeks, when they had a cart full of little bottles and limited each customer to two. Generally, though, it is pretty well stocked. A friend told me she goes to the Westerly Walmart, which she says is big and not crowded. But I figure I’ll stick with what I know and give them my business. I live nearby and the parking lot is always busy. The workers are very nice. I feel so sorry for them. There are nice big plexiglass shields at the checkouts. Meat cases were plenty full more than a week ago, but frozen fruit and veggies, which I’ve gotten to like, were thin. Shortages seem inevitable.

— David Collins

Friday, April 24, 4 p.m., Walmart, Groton

I have to go to Walmart to pick up a prescription plus a few other things. The entrance is all roped up in a way to force a one-way traffic pattern with taped boxes every 6 feet. They have store associates inside where the greeter would normally be to stop anyone without a mask (which included the lady in front of me) and various signs around for keeping distance. I am trying to minimize my time here as much as possible so I don’t look much, but the fridge section is a little naked in parts. The only thing that I “need” and can’t get is flour, which is true just about everywhere (and do I really need to anxiety-bake?). NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO FOLLOW ONE-WAY SIGNS!!!! I have to do that hallway dance to avoid people a few times. The pharmacy has those big plastic shields up, and the tech won’t let me buy my few other things there like they normally do so I go to the regular registers. They have little circles on the ground for spacing in the checkout lines, and all the cashiers are masked and gloved but no shields. Either they took down the express lane signs or the lady in front of me is totally ignoring it and has a million things. The cashier is nice.

— Amanda Hutchinson

Saturday, April 25, 8 a.m., Big Y, Mystic

Shoppers wearing masks but again two store employees working in the bakery section are not wearing them. Shoppers still clueless about arrows for one-way shopping. No toilet paper, paper towels or Clorox wipes. Almost no dish washing detergent. Almost no orange juice, cheese. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Plenty of meat. And they actually had eggs. All carts are being wiped down by employees before they give one to you.

— Joe Wojtas

Saturday, April 25, 9:15 a.m., Stop & Shop, Norwich

Fairly light crowd. A staff person cheerfully greets shoppers and shows them to the carts she has just finished wiping down. Sanitary wipes in the dispenser. I pull in just as an S&S tractor-trailer truck is arriving, I hope delivering products. At least the produce shelves are mostly stocked, unlike a week earlier when there was no lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, celery and a bunch of other items. Few tomatoes, except lots of containers of cherry tomatoes. No bags of onions. No hand dishwashing soap.

Good amount of eggs, but no butter.

Cashier suddenly leaves and another takes over. Hear mumblings that the customer in front of me had licked her fingers to count her cash and then handed the cash to the cashier. She then left to go wash her hands.

— Claire Bessette

Sunday, April 26, noon, Walmart, Groton

Now this is a place that knows how to operate in a pandemic! Had to wait a minute in a long corral outside as a woman with an iPad, who seems to be tracking the number of people in the store, calls in the next person in line. Pharmacy people wipe down the counter before the next person can come up. Lots of arrows and signs to direct people. Don’t see anyone wiping down carts. Plenty of stuff in the aisles. They have paper towels. Everyone wearing masks.

— Joe Wojtas

Monday, April 27, Stop & Shop, Norwich.

Return to try to get yellow onions (still none) and look at meat: $12 for a frozen six-pack of hamburgers. Fresh hamburg over $4 a pound. Few whole chickens, but good amount of cut-up chicken. Plenty of hams and fresh beef roasts and steaks.

No canned tuna, except the large cans and a few single-serving tiny cans. Paper aisle still sparse, but some toilet paper and paper towels.

A few bottles of different brands of dish soap. People must be using it for hand soap. Hand soft soap: just a few expensive ones on the shelves. $3+ for a small bottle. (The S&S brand, when they have it, is 99 cents).

People are generally pleasant, but no one seems to follow the one-way pattern.

— Claire Bessette

Monday, April 27, 4 p.m., ALDI, Waterford

I’ve shopped exclusively at Aldi since the pandemic started because of the horror stories I’ve heard of other places. Someone is always standing wiping down every cart before and after uses, even in the rain today. This is my first trip in a few weeks and I am picking up a few things for friends so I have a long list, from canned beans to salmon to fresh produce to eggs to creamer and everything in between. Store isn’t crowded and people are abiding by well-marked 6-foot distance and one-way aisles. The only thing I don’t find on my list is flour; tons of eggs, meat, produce, dairy, pasta, paper products. Flour and Clorox wipes seem to be the only things sold out. Eggs are a different brand than usual and a little higher priced. Chat with cashier on my way out and she says they have a truck coming every morning, where she knows lots of grocery stores are getting deliveries once a week or every few days. Says sometimes high-demand items will be low or out in the afternoon but that it’s almost always replenished the next morning and recommends early weekday shopping trips. I have a friend who hasn’t been to the grocery store once since this pandemic started almost 2 months ago and has been getting weekly deliveries from Aldi. He says he has no trouble finding delivery times in Instacart if he looks a few days out, even for weekend slots, and your list can be adjusted until the second your shopper enters the store. Says one time they couldn’t find salmon and another substituted normal yogurt for Greek but otherwise has loved it.

— Sarah Gordon

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