Local Spotlight: Community Grocery Stores Play Crucial Role During COVID-19 Crisis

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J.G. Food Warehouse (Photo by Julie Rae Rickard)

In normal times, the corner grocery store is an important part of the community. During the COVID-19 crisis, these stores took on an even more crucial role, being a lifeline for supplies.

In the beginning of the crisis, Bob Dotts, manager of Leyo’s Supermarket in Coalport, said he noticed the store getting busier.

The items that went quickly were masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, anything that could be used as a disinfectant, soup, canned vegetables and non-perishable food.

But it was during a five-hour sale, which they had already planned for March 14, when everything “just let loose.”

By coincidence this sale included bottled water, which was another hot item at that time.

He said this period was the most stressful because “nobody knew what to do” and “it was almost like a war zone at first.”

Now he feels the store has settled into a rhythm. They receive trucks of supplies in the morning with toilet paper still being one of the things that “goes fairly fast” once it hits the shelves.

There has been an evolution to the supplies most requested, he said beginning with bread, then frozen bread dough and now with shortages of yeast because people started making their own bread.

Meat is the current hot item leading to some supply problems.

“When we get a truck, it is like Christmas because we are not sure what we are actually going to get,” Dotts said.

To help their elderly customers, they set aside a special hour each day (beginning at 7 a.m.) for them to shop exclusively.

For those who do not feel comfortable going into the store, they have started a curb-side service. They take orders by phone, which can be loaded directly into cars when customers arrive in the parking lot.

Dotts explained they did not need to hire more workers to handle the rush but instead added hours for his student employees who suddenly had more availability.

Only one of his employees took time off because she was afraid of taking the virus home to her husband. But she is back at work now.

Their employees are wearing masks and they are requiring customers to wear a mask.

Overall employee morale has been good, during this busy time, he reported.

The situation was similar at J.G. Food Warehouse in Clearfield.

Manager Drew Rowles said it was difficult to keep shelves supplied at first as anything non-perishable was selling fast.

They never had an issue with obtaining milk but one week they had problems keeping bread in stock.

They continue to be short on pasta, dry food items like macaroni and cheese and Ramen Noodles.

Disinfectants are still difficult to get, he added.

The new problem is meat which has seen a 25 percent growth in sales in the last two weeks, Rowles said.

This involves all varieties with beef, pork and chicken all selling as people stock up supposedly in connection with infections of the virus at various meat processing facilities.

The crisis in general required the store to make a few changes, he explained.

Hours were shortened to allow more time to clean the store each day and employees were monitored for the sickness.

The few that had symptoms were told to stay home. Each was tested for the virus with negative results, Rowles said.

All employees are wearing masks as per state requirements.

To help those reluctant to enter the business, they began offering curb-side service and deliveries.

The delivery option was made possible by The Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging, which contacted the store about setting up home deliveries for some of their customers, he said.

In addition to this, some residents volunteered to handle grocery deliveries for free.

Rowles commented on how proud he is of the community’s response to the crisis in general.

For example, he has seen an increase in people handing over money to the cashier for the next customer in line.

“I have seen this happen more in the last couple months than I have in 30 years,” he said.

People stepping up to give to others “has been a bright spot in this whole thing.”

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