Weaver’s Way Chestnut Hill kitchen manager John Adams with a fresh dairy delivery. (photo by April Lisante)

by April Lisante

It was around 8 p.m. this past Tuesday and I was wandering the aisles in Giant like a dazed war survivor, looking for things I would not find that night, or the day after, or the day after that.

I passed a fellow shopper and as he shook his head, I said to him “This is strange, isn’t it? It’s like…” and I couldn’t find the words. But he did.

“It’s like being in another dimension,” he added.

Yes, that was exactly what it felt like, and what I’ve been feeling for the past two weeks since COVID-19 reared its ugly head. I feel the severity and the chaos of the pandemic every time I walk into a grocery store.

Last Thursday when the governor held a 2 p.m. press conference calling off school for two-weeks, I was at Giant within an hour, but it seems I was almost an hour too late. Checkout carts stretched toward the rear of the store. Shelves and entire aisles were already empty.

I returned there the following day, and an exhausted worker told a whale of a tale about the subsequent Friday morning crowd of parents.

“People were just taking their arms and scooping whole shelves into their carts, like yogurts, everything,” he recalled, shaking his head.

This has been a trying week for grocery stores across our area, according to workers I spoke with. The problem isn’t so much supply as it is demand. Despite President Trump’s caution for Americans not to hoard groceries, things have looked apocalyptic, with bare shelves each and every day. Food suppliers nationwide still have plentiful inventory, but getting the shipments delivered quickly enough to keep up with the empty shelving has been the main issue, according to grocers.

“The supply is not the issue,” said Weaver’s Way kitchen manager John Adams. “We haven’t had a problem getting anything, but what we are seeing is for the smaller stores like us, we are less of a priority than the big stores.”

But I noticed that sentiment didn’t seem to ring true this past week at the Flourtown Giant, during multiple day and evening trips to the store. Key products are still scarce. One day there were no eggs, the next, plenty. Somehow there is always milk, but try to get your hands on fresh berries and other fruits, and it’s hit or miss. The frozen waffle aisle and the peanut butter and jelly section look like there’s a Sesame Street convention in town.

There hasn’t been toilet paper or hand sanitizer, or really any paper goods in the entire length of the aisle there for over a week, and there still aren’t other items you wouldn’t normally think of hoarding.

Like kids cereal. Who needs 15 boxes of Lucky Charms? Someone must.

Or cous cous. Shelves wiped out. I can see needing some pasta (those aisles are still near-empty in Giant), but locals really love their cous cous.

While Giant seems to continue to struggle to keep up with demand, others, like Weaver’s Way, are seeing a roughly 50 percent increase in sales for all three stores in the past two weeks as a result of the shopping panic, according to Adams.

There has been a run on every item on the store, most especially paper goods and meats, but the shelves amazingly still look stocked.

“Raw meats have been tough to come by,” Adams said. “And it’s still things like bread, milk, blizzard type things. It’s like every day is Christmas.”

Like many stores, Weaver’s Way has altered their business hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Trader Joe’s has done the same. In many cases, it is because employees have been calling out to avoid virus exposure, leaving shifts unmanned.

I asked Adams how he is holding up.

“I’m ready for it every day,” he said.

Trader Joe’s, incidentally, may be one of the lucky ones during this grocery crisis. They have their own warehouses to supply their chains, and don’t have to rely on the same national suppliers grocery stores do.

But I’d heard a rumor about a week ago that the frozen food section was decimated when the crisis reached a crescendo and schools were cancelled. I had to see for myself if it was possible that some of the tastiest frozen apps around were no more.

At the Montgomeryville Joe’s, it was nearly business as usual this week. There was the obvious absence of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, as well as key family frozen items, like pizzas, lasagna and chicken fingers, but I was able to get “hard to find” items like strawberries, bagged lettuce and frozen waffles.

And while I should have been most stressed that I couldn’t find toilet paper or sanitizer and once again, I was crushed they were out of chicken tikka samosas.

One bit of silver lining? Whole Foods and Giant have added a daily special 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour for seniors only to get what they need  — and get out before everyone else descends.

IN CHESTNUT HILL

Fresh Market, 8208 Germantown Ave. has set aside special hours for seniors to shop. COVID-19 has been shown to be particularly dangerous to people 60 and older.

“To best serve our community during this time, we are designating special shopping hours for seniors and other individuals most at risk. These hours are 8 AM – 9 AM, Monday through Friday. All stores will continue to operate under our regular business hours.”

More on Fresh Market’s hours and current in-store practices.

While Weaver’s Way has not set aside special senior hours, the co-op’s locations in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy have expanded service and taken a number of measures to make shopping a safer experience.

The stores have reduced hours, limited the number of shoppers, extended senior discounts and expanded deliver options. For more, see the Co-Op’s page on COVID-19.

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