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Working on the frontline

Editor’s Note: With the COVID-19 virus prompting Government officials to invoke business closings and restrictions, The Voice will be looking at how the new orders are affecting local businesses over the next several weeks. This week we will look at grocery stores and how they are handling the new reality of life with COVID-19.


Following the opening week of news about the spreading of the COVID-19 virus, many people rushed to their local grocery stores to stock up on essentials. What followed was a period of panic buying, as the supply chains could not keep up with the unexpected rush. Many customers were greeted with empty shelves, low supplies and long lines.

Now, as we enter our third week under stay at home requests from the Governor, the grocery stores are still open and serving the public, but there have been several changes made to help prevent further spread.

Kroger in Whitley City has implemented new store hours, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to provide time for store staff to clean and restock. Manager Sandra Cundiff said the deliveries have caught up, so shortages – while still a reality – are fewer and there are ample supplies of food on the shelves. The store has limited purchases on some items, such as meat, to ensure there is plenty to go around and to deter hoarding.

Cundiff said her staff have adjusted well to the changes and have been diligent about adapting to the new reality. Only a few employees, those with pre-existing medical conditions or have elderly parents in their home, have opted to not work until the crisis passed.

Those hearty workers that have stayed are constantly busy, either helping customers, stocking shelves, or wiping surfaces with disinfectant.

“We are cleaning and disinfecting all day,” she said. “Once a customer leaves we wipe down every surface and keypad. For two hours after we close we go over everything we can and clean.”

“They have been very dedicated,” Cundiff said. “They want to be here and serve their community.”

While the staff has been vigilant about keeping their distance from customers and each other, Cundiff said she is concerned about the few customers who don’t observe social distancing. The staff has to remind them not to crowd together in the aisles or in line.

“Some really get it,” she said. “They know what the dangers are, not only for them, but for others. But there are some who don’t seem to take it as seriously. We have instructed our staff to be courteous and stay out of the customers way.

She believes if people follow the social distancing rules, life will return to normal soon, but if not, she fears further restrictions could occur.

“If we all do what we are supposed to, we can stay open,” she said.

In Pine Knot, at Anderson’s Grocery, life at the store is running as close to usual as possible, said owner Connie Anderson.

“We’re overrun, crowded and things are in short supply – just like everyone else,” Anderson said. “The problem is at the warehouse level, but our trucks are still on schedule. They only can bring us about 60 to 65 percent of what we order, but we try to get the products the customers want.”

“We try to wait on everybody, and hopefully stay safe in the process.”

Anderson said he has not had any issues with customers, as most are patient and complying with the social distance orders.

Like other stores, Anderson’s Grocery experienced shortages after the initial panic buying hit, but Anderson says the issue lay more with the supply chain and people over reacted to perceived shortages.

“People reach a certain level of concern, whether or not there is a need,” he said. “You can’t resupply the United States of America in a matter of days. I think the products are out there, it is just the logistics of getting them to the stores.”

Anderson’s Grocery is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

We could not get a local comment from Save-A-Lot, who directed us to their corporate office. A request for comment was not returned as of press time.

The store has implemented new store hours, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with a special 1-hour exclusive shopping time for seniors and those with special needs fro 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The store also has installed protective plexi-glass barriers between staff and customers at check-out and staff wear gloves to handle products.

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