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Local grocery stores adapting in the time of coronavirus

Grocery stores have been one place people must go even with the social-distancing requirements of the coronavirus epidemic.

Precautions have been taken to protect customers and store workers, and more are being taken in the busiest local store.

Additional safety changes coming to Safeway stores include limits on the number of customers who can shop at a given time, and one-way aisles, the company says.

“Throughout this week, Safeway and Albertsons will be further enhancing safety measures in all their stores in Washington State,” an April 6 corporate press release says. “The stores will limit the number of customers who can be inside the store at one time to roughly 30% of the stores’ capacity. This limitation will provide each customer approximately 150 square feet of individual space. Additionally, the stores will implement a one-way movement policy in the aisles, which will be marked to provide direction. Lastly, the company has successfully sourced cloth masks – both reusable and disposable – for all of its employees, and the store employees are expected to have access to the masks by the end of the week.”

Plexiglass windows have been placed at the cash registers between the customers and cashiers, and tape on the floor shows lengths needed for social distancing.

Public Affairs Manager for Safeway’s Bellevue office, Tairsa Worman, wrote in an email to The Star that “stores have begun health screening for employees before each shift.”

She also answered questions about restocking high-demand items, and limits on them.

“We are asking customers to respect quantity limits of select, high-demand items (like hand sanitizers, household cleaners, toilet paper etc.), to help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need,” she wrote.

Neither delivery of food nor prescriptions from the pharmacy are currently possible in Grand Coulee, Worman said.

At Harvest Foods and Variety in Coulee Dam, the same items that are known to be difficult to buy nationally, such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies, have been difficult to buy locally, too, according to manager Krayton Duclos.

Duclos said that difficulty should ease up in the near future.

Buying limits on certain items are in place, he said, although limits on the number of customers who can enter the store at one time have not been considered.

Home deliveries have been considered as an option, he said, but that hasn’t happened yet because of an insurance issue.

Employees are wearing masks and gloves while in the store as a precaution.

H&H Grocery in Electric City is smaller than the average grocery store.

Owner Gary Norris spoke to The Star Tuesday about running a small grocery store during the coronavirus epidemic.

The store offers home delivery, which they’ve done for a long time, Norris said, but a few more people have been taking advantage of the option during the era of social distancing.

There’s no delivery fee, but there is a $20 minimum order, and people can prepay with a credit card and have the groceries left on the porch, Norris said. Some have left cash on their porch instead.

Sanitization is another top concern when interacting with money and customers.

Norris, his wife Tammy, who typically does bookwork, and three other employees, wear gloves and masks while in the store. Some small crates placed in front of the register help achieve distance between the customers and the clerks.

“We can be 10 feet from the people,” Norris said. “We’re washing our hands a lot and have sanitizer on the counter and a spray. We go around and get the front door and coolers periodically between customers. We’re doing what we can.”

Norris said that about half the workers delivering food to his store have been wearing masks, and that some companies, such as Pepsi, have been delivering every other week, rather than every week.

Three weeks ago, Norris said, the grocery warehouse he used quit delivering to him, limiting their deliveries to bigger stores, but set him up with another warehouse.

Harvest Foods has helped him with ordering certain items, as well.

Some items have been hard to stock, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Norris said that he may order three brands of toilet paper, and only one will come in, usually the higher-end brand. And when placing an order, he’s not sure if a bleach, paper towel, or sanitizer he ordered will be included until the truck comes in.

But Norris thinks that restocking on items should become easier.

“People have stocked up so much, now they aren’t buying quite as much,” he said.

Norris said he’s seen an increase in customers who just want to buy a couple of items and avoid the rush of the bigger stores.

“They don’t want the madhouse,” he said.


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