CAPITAL REGION — Sheets of plexiglass are becoming increasingly prevalent at grocery store checkouts around the Capital Region as cases of COVID-19 continue to mount.
Large chains like Price Chopper, as well as smaller groceries like Healthy Living in Wilton, are working to reassure customers of store cleanliness as they experience some of the highest customer volumes in years.
“We’re used to in New York having a snowstorm that might put pressure on a supply chain for a day, but this has been like a snowstorm going on for days and days,” said Todd Bullen, vice president of retail services at Hannaford.
Hannaford and other local grocers have been installing plexiglass “sneeze guards” over the past few weeks, as well as making cashiers wash their hands every 30 minutes and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
Stores are also encouraging their customers to maintain social distance with strategies like tape on the floor in checkout lines, but enforcement can sometimes be difficult.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to get them to figure out is: do not go shopping with your family member,” said Dennis Hanley, interim general manager at the Niskayuna Co-Op Market.
“We’re trying to put that in our messaging,” Hanley said. “Some are coming in with their kids. Some of the folks that are married are coming in and you just shouldn’t be doing that.”
Many supermarkets are providing gloves and wipes to customers, but some overzealous shoppers have frustrated managers. “We’ve provided disinfectant wipes near our cart carrels forever –- the only problem is people are stealing them as fast as we can put them out now,” said Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services at Price Chopper/Market 32. Store employees stationed at the door wipe down cart handles for arriving shoppers now.
Someone is also stealing the toilet paper from inside Price Choppers’ store bathrooms, according to Golub.
The high demand for toilet paper and other items initially shocked supermarkets like Hannaford, but the company says they have bounced back from product shortages. “The food supply chain in the U.S. is very healthy and very resilient,” said Bullen. “What we’re doing is we’re continuing to work quickly with our vendors to replenish high demand items, and also working with suppliers that we don’t typically work with to acquire different items that our customers need.”
Niskayuna Co-Op officials say their suppliers have been shorting orders –- only being able to deliver some of what’s ordered. All the same, Hanley says he is hopeful.
“I think that there’s a lot of cool things that are happening to relationships when you have a situation like this,” said Hanley. “It’s fun to see the customers and the team working close together. And that’s why it is no longer a supermarket, it’s a community.”
At larger supermarkets dependent on hourly employees, many workers have had to cut back their hours so they can watch their kids, many of whom have been home from school three weeks now.
“The teammates that are parents, in order to help them maintain their work-life balance, we’ve adjusted their schedules,” said Golub. “That, in addition to the increased volume and elevated sanitation protocols was the impetus behind our hiring initiative.”
Golub said that they’ve hired upward of 1,000 employees since a few weeks ago. Hannaford is also hiring, according to Bullen. Stores are also instituting hours when only senior citizens or immune-compromised customers are allowed to shop: at Price Chopper, that’s from 6 to 7 a.m. every day. Hannaford has senior hour from 6 to 7 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We need to respect one another; state to state, chain to chain, store to store and even neighbor to neighbor,” said Golub.
“Recognizing that we share many common needs right now, but also that there’s plenty to go around.”