All Safeway, Albertsons and Haggen grocery stores in the state are setting aside special shopping hours for elderly customers and others who are more vulnerable to the new coronavirus. The hours are from 7-9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning March 19.
Uwajimaya and Target are among the grocery chains that are also reserving early morning hours for shoppers who need food, but want to avoid crowded areas. They might be over 60, pregnant or have compromised health.
Unlike bars and restaurants, grocery providers are allowed to stay open under social-distancing orders from the state. But lines can be long and it’s not really possible to stay 6 feet away from checkers, who interact with dozens of people a day.
Karl Shroeder is president of the Seattle division of Albertsons Co., with 245 stores in three states, under the Albertsons, Safeway, Haggen and Carrs banners. He says although you won’t see most of their clerks wearing gloves or masks, you can be confident that they are working hard to be safe around the clock.
“We’ve told our folks cleaning out-prioritzes checking, it out-prioritizes stocking. We’re actually rotating through, cleaning every check stand every hour,” Schroeder said. “So you might be in one of our stores and see it very busy, but a check stand or two closed. If they’re closed, it’s because we’re going through the hourly protocol of cleaning it from one end to the other.”
He says the clerks are told to use hand sanitizer after every order and to wash their hands every hour.
Still, he says the stores have been pretty hectic lately, with shoppers buying as much as twice the normal amount of groceries in response to announcements about social distancing.
That’s put a strain on the supply chain, but Shroeder says there is plenty of food and no need to panic shop. Companies like his are adjusting with things like ramped up trucking and increased bread production.
But the crowded lines can be disconcerting, especially for vulnerable shoppers. Customers and store managers requested the special hours for seniors and others. The chain chose the early morning hours because they get lots of deliveries and restock shelves overnight.
“We thought it was our best chance to have the most products available,” Schroeder said. “It’s (also) a time when we’re just coming off our most thorough cleaning of the store because there’s less traffic. And it’s an hour that’s normally not as busy as in the evening, so it would be more convenient for other customers, who don’t normally shop at that time to ask them to not shop.”
Schroeder says they won’t be checking IDs or putting security guards at the door, but they’re hoping the community will comply. And if an elderly shopper wants or needs to bring a younger helper, that’s fine too.