Across the country, local markets and supermarket chains are experiencing challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow.
Halston Media reached out to markets in its Westchester County coverage area to see how they are dealing with an overwhelming demand for some products, the need to impose social distancing rules and the resulting increased levels of anxiety being exhibited by their shoppers.
All contacted said they are following regulations issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sanitizing their stores and surfaces, and most have seen drastic changes in their product supplies, the number of customers and need for employees.
Uncle Giuseppe’s and ACME in Yorktown, Stop & Shop in Baldwin Place and Green Way Market in Cross River have all reported an influx of customers.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stop & Shop has seen an increase in volume in our stores and our online home delivery service,” said Maura O’Brien, a community relations representative for Stop & Shop.
Jillian Gundy, marketing manager of Uncle Giuseppe’s, said that it also has seen a “dramatic increase” in its number of daily customers.
“Customers are shopping at Uncle Giuseppe’s for their prepared meals and everyday essentials,” Gundy said. “We are working hard to stock our shelves daily as shipments arrive while keeping the stores as sanitized as possible.”
Dana Ward, public relations manager for ACME, said that the COVID-19 pandemic is like “a snowstorm on steroids,” as it has increased demand and customers are coming into the store more frequently and leaving workers unable to stock the shelves fast enough, causing a ripple effect.
“When we have snowstorms or hurricanes, it usually just impacts one part of the country. So in this case, it’s impacting the entire country, so resources are being pulled in every direction instead of being centralized to a disaster area,” Ward said. “Naturally, it’s causing supply chain delays.”
Chris DeCicco, owner of DeCicco & Sons in Somers, said that stores are limited to a 40 percent capacity at any one time to reduce the number of customers shopping together.
“This is not only to protect our customers, but also our employees’ health,” DeCicco said.
Smaller businesses like Harvest Moon Orchards in North Salem have felt the impact, as well, with manager Kristina Jahaly saying loyal community members are coming to buy products local to the Hudson Valley.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot of people who are coming to us who feel that coming to the farm is a more trustworthy source for their food,” Jahaly said. “They’re coming here. I feel like our loyal customers who have always been here have stayed with us and are coming here to shop.”
However, other local markets are reporting a decline in the number of customers they’re seeing, among them the Route 100 Market, a deli and gas station in Somers.
“Business has slowed down considerably because people are not driving, they’re not going to get gas, but we are open 24 hours and we’re trying to do our best to serve the community right now,” said Juliette Sussman, the market’s owner. “My first concern is safety for my employees and the customers and we’re hanging in there.”
Daniel Pereira, owner of Union Hall in North Salem, said that although he has been seeing fewer patrons, he has maintained his business due to his loyal customer base, which still orders through delivery and curbside pick-up.
“I’m one of the very few who are lucky that way,” Pereira said.
Renea Dayton, owner of Hayfield’s Market in North Salem, said that while customers have been “few and far between,” she appreciates those who “have been coming in and thank them for their patronage.”
While all market representatives said they have ramped up cleaning measures and are strictly following CDC guidelines, some have taken extra steps to keep their employees safe.
At DeCicco & Sons, Green Way Market, ACME and Stop & Shop, plexiglass barriers are being installed to limit contact between customers and employees and masks and gloves will be provided to employees for further protection.
Ward said that ACME will be installing markers on the floors to provide a 6-foot distance between customers and arrows will be placed in the aisles to direct traffic to prevent backup in one location. Markers of a similar nature will be installed at DeCicco & Sons as well as at Stop & Shop.
However, smaller markets have had to reduce staff to ensure their safety.
“We’ve had to reduce our staff and our deli hours to keep everybody as safe as possible,” Sussman said.
She added that gas nozzles and bathrooms are undergoing extra sanitization.
Dayton said that while she usually has five or six people working every day, she has since limited the staff to one person a day.
She has also had to restrict access within the establishment.
“We are not allowing anyone into the café,” Dayton said. “You can order from the door, must have exact cash or you can read us your credit card number. The front door stays open so no one has to touch the handles. There is no contact.”
Supplies have been running short countrywide, as well.
“We have food, products, but supply chains are barer because we can only work as fast as that supply chain allows us to,” Ward said. “We have to wait for the vendors to get the supplies, send them to the warehouse, then the warehouse sends them to our stores.”
Many chain stores are reporting difficulty receiving such high-demand products as paper goods, chicken, eggs and dairy products, as well as cleaning supplies, which have lead some stores to limit items per customer.
The same goes for small grocery stores.
“As of last week, I was able to get most of what I needed to the store, but this week had two deliveries canceled because they didn’t have what I needed,” Pereira said.
He said that a delivery of dried goods and another of milk and cheese were canceled; of an order of cheese he was expecting to receive on Friday, March 27, he said it was “still up in the air.”
Sussman said that although it is harder for her to find paper goods, she does not want to limit the number of customers in a time of crisis.
Still, other market representatives said they are not having any issues with supplies.
Harvest Moon Orchards, for example, relies on farms in the Hudson Valley for its stock, which has been plentiful. The only item it has limited is eggs, at two per family, which actually is a standard practice at this time of year.
“Everyone at Harvest Moon knows the chickens take a break over the winter,” Jahaly said.
Even as some stores have had to limit staff for safety reasons, such as Hayfields and Route 100, big supermarket chains have continued hiring to keep up with the increased customer demand.
“Just this week we started to hire more employees,” DeCicco said. “For the past few weeks, all of the corporate, including human resources, has been in the stores working on the floor. Now that things have started to settle, human resources is able to get back to starting the hiring process.”
O’Brien said that Stop & Shop is currently hiring 5,000 new employees across the Northeast.
“We recognize the important role that our stores have in our communities during this time and we want to ensure that we are well-staffed in order to best serve our customers every day,” O’Brien said.
ACME, Green Way and Uncle Giuseppe’s also have been hiring throughout the pandemic.
“We are continually hiring in Green Way Markets and our Foodtown locations,” Robin Estevez said. “Most-needed positions now are butchers, stock, deli, cashiers and maintenance.”
Meanwhile, smaller markets such as Harvest Moon Orchards are “right where they need to be” in terms of staffing, according to Jahaly. She said that because it is a seasonal business, it only employs so many people.
Pereira from Union Hall said that he is not hiring or laying off anyone at the moment.
“I’m keeping the people that have been working with me for a while now. I’ve been able to keep them, but I’m not hiring anyone either,” Pereira said. “I’m working longer hours to make sure everyone is accommodated, but I am not hiring anyone right now.”
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