Panic buying and an attitude of uncertainty over the coronavirus led to area grocery stores being literally cleaned out of household paper products and basic food staples over the weekend and into Monday.
To reign in both hoarders and those anxious over the prospect of having children home from school for the next three weeks, local grocers posted restrictions on individual purchases, and changed operating hours to allow for restocking and sanitizing.
Signs began appearing on the doors of Kroger and Walmart Sunday telling shoppers they would be changing their hours of operation.
According to Kroger, all stores will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. until further notice, while Walmart announced its new hours of operation will be 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice.
Additional signs were posted inside stores, imposing purchase limits per customer to head off panic buying and hoarding in light of news reports of the coronavirus.
Todd Clinton, store manager of Community Market in Hillsboro, told The Times-Gazette his store did two-and-a-half times the normal business Saturday and Sunday, which left many “holes” on store shelves.
“We’re expecting a truck today (Monday), but it’s gonna be about 12 hours late,” he said. “I think people are just in disbelief about what’s happening and that there really is something going on.”
Community Market has followed suit in limiting some quantity purchases, such as bottled water, milk, eggs, produce and home paper products.
Over the weekend, when anxious customers began streaming into the Hillsboro Walmart, an employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the store as “a madhouse with people everywhere, coming through the checkouts with cases of toilet paper and gallons of milk, and I think we had a fistfight back there someplace.”
Stella Burns of Hillsboro and Jennifer Edmisten of Peebles were trying to do some shopping at the Hillsboro Save-A-Lot, but like most shoppers, found shelves that once held milk, eggs, cheese and paper products empty.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” Edmisten said. “It wasn’t a wasted trip, since I am able to get a few things up here.”
Burns said she understood why people were scared, but wanted them to avoid the “my four and no more” attitude.
“If you need something, get it, but leave some for someone else,” she said. “I think the stores should really ‘pack it up’ for people and keep it stocked, because I’m really scared myself, and put a limit on how much one person can buy at one time.”
Despite all of the anxiety he sees in customers faces, Clinton compared the current situation with the times Community Market was flooded with people in the face of a major winter storm.
“By and large, people have been good about it and understanding about the conditions of the stores,” he said. “It’s a lot like getting slammed by a snow storm where you get hit hard for a day or two, but something like this, we might get hit for a week or two.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.