Stories of empty shelves at area grocery stores spread quickly this week—spurred by news that some Texas cities were seeing the first positive tests for the coronavirus, and by the fear that widespread quarantines may well be next.
We stopped by Lowe’s grocery store here in Canadian Saturday morning to check in with manager Jacque Wilson. It was a relief to see that Lowe’s shelves were, for the most part, well-stocked, with the exception of obvious shortages in the toilet paper section, and empty shelves where hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaners once were plentiful.
Wilson said business had been brisk at Lowe’s late in the week, with sales for Thursday and Friday equal to what the store usually collects in an entire week. It was true, she admitted, that some of those sales had been to residents of other communities, who made the drive to Canadian because the stores in those towns were rapidly running out of supplies.
“I left here Thursday,” Wilson said. “It was probably 6:30 pm or 6:45 pm. My store closer called and said, ‘We have people from Pampa, from the Walmart and United, and from Woodward, Oklahoma, in here buying toilet paper because there’s not any where they live.’”
Further proof of those shortages came in a photo a friend sent, showing an empty meat market at Sam’s in Amarillo, and from others taken at one Amarillo Walmart on Saturday, where the parking lots were full, but the shelves were shockingly bare.
“We get all of our stuff from Affiliated out of Amarillo,” Wilson said, “and the only thing that they’re telling us is, if we order multiple cases of something like Charmin toilet tissue, they’re going to limit that.”
“So they’re rationing those supplies?” we asked.
“They call it allocating,” Wilson said. “They’re allocating the number of cases that we order until the supply and demand is back up, until it just sort of evens out again.”
For the most part, though, Wilson said their supply is good, and she expects a full truck to arrive Monday morning.
The only thing she is having trouble resupplying is hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes. “That’s what we’re having more of an issue with,” she said. “And that’s what everybody wants.”
The run on those products forced Wilson to get more creative to protect her own customers and staff. “I haven’t had luck getting the hand sanitizers and the antibacterial wipes to keep at my cash registers,” she said, “so I made me a bucket of bleach water, and all my employees are wiping down the frequentlytouched places with bleach rags.”
Asked what other precautions she has had to take, Wilson said, “If one of us comes in and we don’t feel good, and we are running the slightest temperature, we are to send that employee home immediately. No questions asked. Just send them home.”
“That’s our policy from the corporate office,” she added. “If someone tests positive for coronavirus, we have to let our corporate office know immediately. What they’re going to do from that point, I don’t know.”
Asked whether her corporate office had warned her to expect any future supply shortages, Wilson said they hadn’t, yet.
In fact, business has been so good that all 31 of her employees are working longer hours.
“We need their help,” she said. “It’s going to take all of my main stockers to restock the shelves, and all of our checkers and courtesy people to help customers, so we’re actually working more people for longer hours.”
“I’m praying faithfully that nobody anywhere around here gets coronavirus,” she said. “We are very, very blessed in this community.”
If anyone does fall ill, though, Wilson said they are prepared to go the extra mile…literally.
“I’ve told people to pass along that if you need something, if you’re sick, you know, call me,” she said. “I will gather it up, and I will bring it and set it on your doorstep, and I’ll knock on the door and let you know it’s there.”
“We don’t want people to go without anything to eat,” she added, “and we don’t want them to be homebound. But if they are sick, we want to take every precaution. If they do need something, all they need to do is call me, and I will make sure that they get what they need.”
Wilson also said there are no plans at this point to shorten the store hours. “Not unless they tell me I have to, I’m not,” she said.
Lowe’s is open Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 9 pm, and on Sundays from 7 am to 7 pm. The store can be reached by calling 806.323.6141.
In photo above, Lowe’s employees were restocking the shelves as quickly as they emptied on Saturday, though new supplies of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other high-demand products would not arrive until Monday morning.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was first filed on Saturday. Two days later, Lowe’s announced that it was implementing purchasing limits on specific items in its store. “Effective immediately,” the announcement said, “we will limit each customer to a total of two items per category for the following categories: Bath tissue, paper towels, facial tissue, hand sanitizer, bleach, vinegar, anti-bacterial soap, and water.” Wilson thanked her customers for their understanding, saying, “Your compliance with this policy is greatly appreciated, and we are sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.” The purchasing limits imposed resulted less from supply shortages than from panicked shoppers buying large quantities of these items.