How grocery stores are adapting amidst coronavirus: Product limits, senior shopping times, reduced hours

March 17, 2020

Photo by Boris Dunand on Unsplash

By now, we’ve all seen the lines wrapping around the block to get into Trader Joe’s or the crazed shoppers buying 100 rolls of toilet paper. And all of this panic shopping and stockpiling, coupled with the state’s new guidelines on businesses, has caused grocery stores in the region to adjust their hours and practices. From reduced hours to elderly-only shopping times to purchase limits, this is how businesses like Trader Joe’s, Fairway, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and some more local spots are coping amidst the coronavirus health crisis.

Photo taken on Saturday, March 14 © 6sqft

This past weekend at 8:15am on Saturday, just 15 minutes after opening, the Trader Joe’s on West 72nd Street had a line wrapping in two directions. A couple blocks north, Fairway’s line to pay had spilled out onto the street. Curiously, a 15-minute walk south at Columbus Circle, Whole Foods was eerily empty, albeit with some bare shelves. The unpredictability of our current life in New York City has left a population that is accustomed to being able to get whatever they want whenever they want to scramble. Do I really need that much toilet paper? Does non-antibacterial soap still work? Why am I stocking up on anchovies just because they’re in a tin? The real question is: What is the correct amount of panic?

For those who operated on the liberal side of the panic spectrum, grocery shopping is still very much a necessity. In a press conference yesterday, the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut implemented an 8pm closing time for businesses with exceptions being supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations. But many grocery stores are taking it upon themselves to reduce hours.

As of Monday, March 16, all Trader Joe’s locations will be open from 9:00am until 7:00pm (as opposed to their normal times of 8:00am until 10:00pm). In a press release, TJ’s said they made the decision “to support our Crew Members in taking care of one another and our customers.” To that end, they’ve also made available additional paid sick time for their staff.

Wegmans, which opened its first NYC location in Brooklyn in October (to much fanfare, might we add) has also changed its hours to 6am to 12am at all New York State stores, with the exception of Brooklyn which will be open from 7am to 11pm. This was done to give staff more time to restock and clean. They’ve also taken the step to impose a two-item purchase limit on a long list of products such as diapers, household cleaning supplies, eggs and milk, frozen vegetables, canned beans and seafood, pasta and pasta sauce, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper, and nearly all meat and medicine/vitamins.

Shop Rite has also put two-item product limits in place, mainly on medicines, paper products, sanitizers and cleaning products, and ground meat.

Local chain Fairway (which is currently on the auction block) seems to be pretty much business as usual, save for increased sanitization efforts. The same is true for Citarella, who has also enhanced its sick leave policy.

Another local chain, Morton Williams, is asking customers to prioritize the hours of 7am to 8am for senior citizens and compromised neighbors. Likewise, Stop and Shop, which has more than 20 stores in New York City, will implement as of Thursday, March 19, earlier hours from 6am to 7:30am daily to service only customers age 60 and over. They will even use a dedicated entrance for this.

Whole Foods has reduced its hours as well and is opening one hour prior to the public opening time for customers who are 60 and older. They’ve also made changes such as closing all hot bars, salad bars, soup bars, and self-serve pizza. In accordance with most cities’ new ordinances, they’re also closing their dine-in sections. Instead, Whole Foods says in a press release that they’ll offer an “expanded selection of pre-packaged items and full-service chef case offerings.”

When it come to their employees, the Amazon-owned company will provide all part- and full-time hourly employees with an additional $2 per hour through the end of April (Amazon at large has adopted this, too, along with their announcement that they’re hiring an additional 100,000 people to keep up with the increased delivery demand due to coronavirus). In terms of paid sick leave, those employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed under quarantine will receive up to two weeks of paid sick leave. The company came under fire this past weekend when Whole Food CEO John Mackey allegedly asked employees to “donate” sick days to one another. Additionally, Amazon has committed an additional $1.6 million to the Team Member Emergency Fund, which is available to team members who are “faced with an unforeseeable emergency or critical situation.”

This week, two employees at Whole Foods locations in NYC tested positive for the virus, reports Vice. On Wednesday, it was an employee at the Columbus Circle location and on Thursday at the Bryant Park location. In both instances, the stores closed early on the day the test came back for extra sanitization but were open the following morning. In the case of Columbus Circle, there was a line to enter on Thursday morning with only 15 shoppers allowed in at a time. The security guard monitoring this cited a lack of staff as the reason.

When in doubt, patronizing your local bodega is a great option and a great place to find items that may be sold out at the larger stores.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on March 20, 2020

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