Groceries booming during outbreak, seeing return to normalcy


By Dave Taylor

After being cleaned out by a panicked public, there’s evidence at the county’s grocery stores that things might be returning to normal, but the buzz of activity has given stores a boost in sales and even a temporary boost in pay at one local store.

Both local IGA stores, Bill’s on the Hill in Hawesville and Crossroads in Lewisport, report higher than normal sales in their locations, with Lewisport reporting a nearly across the board increase in sales of approximately 40 percent.

When government officials began recommending or even ordering schools and non-essential businesses to close, customers swarmed stores for the necessities, prompting a nationwide shortage of toilet paper and disinfectants among other things.

But as time passes, store stock is beginning to catch up.

“It has calmed down some this week. It’s not been as bad,” said Crossroads store manager Linda Payne. “I think more people are not hoarding… so hopefully we’ll start getting stuff back on the shelves to where they have more to choose from.”

While they’re starting to get shipments of toilet paper, some things that shoppers deem important are harder to explain, unless they’re harkening back to the hardships of college days.

“I don’t know why, but ramen noodles have been one of the things,” she said. “For some reason that’s been a crazy buy for everybody.”

Bill’s had the same run on toilet paper and disinfectant sprays, but also on things like meat and produce.

“We had to put limits on a lot of our meat items and our bread items and the produce items, the potatoes and the buns and bread,” said Wayne Stephens, co-owner of the store.

Those limits are over now with things returning to some semblance of normalcy.

“Things are getting back to normal except for the Lysol wipes and antibacterial soap and Lysol cleaner and toilet paper,” he said. “But bread, meats, and our produce and everything, we’re fully stocked right now on all of that.”

The rush to buy lots and lots of toilet paper and ramen noodles has been a very good thing for the bottom line for Crossroads, where Payne said their daily sales are up around 40 percent.

“Some of that jump is because we’ve got beer now too,” she said. “We did over $3,000 in sales in beer last week.”

“Do I think people are hoarding alcohol too? Yeah,” she said. 

The numbers are hard to compare because the store just got its liquor license and began selling right around the time the pandemic hit, but the sales have been good.

“We’ve only had it three weeks but it has climbed each week,” she said. 

Bill’s, which was the first business to begin selling alcohol in late January after the county went wet, has seen consistent strong sales despite the virus.

“We’ve got strong sales on alcohol,” Stephens said, adding that the virus didn’t cause any noticeable spike. 

“Alcohol sales has stayed about the same since this pandemic started,” he said. “I don’t see any big run on alcohol.”

In the ultimate irony, fuel prices are at the lowest prices in decades at the same time that people are being told to stay home, but the two stores have seen very different effects from it.

Stephens said the increase in sales inside has been offset by a decrease at the fuel pumps. 

“Fuel has really dropped,” he said. “My sales have dropped off at least a third. You can’t go no where, so they don’t need the fuel.”

“We’ve got a little extra sales inside but we’ve lost sales on the gas, which kind of washes itself out,” he said.

Payne said things are very different in Lewisport.

“We have sold more gas,” she said. “I think people are getting so stir crazy they’ve got to get out and drive.”

Lower prices might be part of the reason, she said, but it’s also just the time when people normally need more fuel.

“People are starting to mow, they’re doing yard work,” she said. “So I don’t know if it’s because of the pretty weather or if they are out moving more.”

Both stores have implemented safety measures to protect customers and employees, including marking the floor at six foot increments to maintain social distancing and installing Plexiglas barricades to separate cashiers from buyers, and keeping things clean.

“We clean the shopping carts all the time,” said Payne. We clean the pin pads, the counters. We’ve actually got gloves at the register for the shopper even if they want to use gloves.”

Bill’s even cleans the air every night.

“We’ve also brought in these ozone generators,” said Stephens. “At nighttime when nobody’s in the store, they’re set on timers, and they come on and they flood the store with ozone for several hours at night and that’s supposed to kill any bacteria or viruses in the air.”

Recognizing that the employees are exposed daily to a potentially virus-carrying public, Bill’s has also rewarded its employees for their dedication during the pandemic.

“We gave them an across the board increase of 20 percent for the next eight weeks,” said Stephens.

The raises will appear on the checks cut Thursday.

“They’re our heroes,” he said.

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