Charlotte grocers add sneeze guards and offer bonuses in response to coronavirus

Charlotte grocers add sneeze guards and offer bonuses in response to coronavirus
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This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. Tuesday, March 31. We will continue to update it periodically.


If you’ve been to the grocery store recently, you know the scene: Bare toilet paper aisles. Picked-over soap selections. No trace of hand sanitizer.

Throughout Charlotte, grocery stores are working tirelessly to provide service to anxious shoppers amid the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. All say that they are doing extra cleaning of shelves and carts to curb the spread of germs. All are encouraging employees to stay home if they’re feeling unwell. Some are restricting how much customers can buy. Amid the surge in demand, grocers like Publix and Harris Teeter are ramping up hiring.

Walmart, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and Publix are adding sneeze guards to checkout lanes. These are large plexiglass partitions that protect both employees and shoppers.

Some grocers are closing their stores early to restock. Others, like Fresh Market and Whole Foods, are offering designated time for senior citizens to shop.

Grocers will continue to evolve how they respond to the outbreak in Charlotte and beyond. For the next several weeks, supermarkets are among the few businesses allowed to remain open.

Harris Teeter said that effective March 19, stores will operate 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. until further notice. Closing early is intended “to focus on cleaning, replenishment, and the well-being of our valued associates.”

Additionally, Harris Teeter is designating Monday and Thursday mornings from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. as “senior shopping hours” for customers 60 and over.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Harris Teeter is giving “appreciation bonuses” to all of its employees. It’s giving a one-time bonus of $150 to part-time workers, and $300 to full-time workers.

“Our associates are working around the clock to serve our shoppers and communities, and we want to provide them with additional support during this extraordinary time,” said Rod Antolock, president of Harris Teeter.

In its stores, Harris Teeter has placed limits on certain in-demand items. Customers can only buy three of each items in the following categories: Water, toilet paper, canned meat, pasta, cleaning supplies, and some medical supplies like Airborne and cold/flu medicine.

Harris Teeter in Plaza Midwood

Harris Teeter in Plaza Midwood.

Publix has similarly placed limits on in-demand items. Shoppers can only buy two items from the following categories: hand soaps and sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, facial masks and gloves, disinfectant wipes and sprays, aerosol disinfectant sprays, facial tissue, cups/plates/utensils, and bleach.

“We continue to make daily deliveries to our stores and are collaborating with our supplier community, industry groups and community partners,” spokeswoman Maria Brous said.

Publix also discontinued sampling in its stores,  she added.

Since March 14, Publix stores have been closing nightly at 8 p.m., and will continue to do so until further notice.

Publix said recently it is looking to hire thousands more store employees by the end of March amid “unprecedented demand.” Those interested can apply at www.publix.jobs.

“The company encourages submissions from people in service, manufacturing, warehousing and other industries who have recently found themselves unexpectedly without work,” Publix said in a statement.

To accommodate the surge in demand, Food Lion says it has hired more than 5,000 associates across its national footprint in the last week.

The chain is reserving Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 a.m.-8 a.m. as designated shopping time for customers who are 60 and older or who are immunocompromised.

Food Lion shelves

Toilet paper shelves at the Food Lion on The Plaza.

Trader Joe’s recently announced new hours: Starting March 16, and until further notice, all Trader Joe’s stores will operate from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. The new hours are intended “to support our Crew Members in taking care of one another and our customers,” spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said in an email.

The first hour of operations each day will be reserved for shoppers 60 and over, and those who have disabilities, the grocer says.

Additionally, Trader Joe’s is limiting the number of customers who shop in each store at any given time. It depends on the size of the store, but the limit has been around 25-40 at Charlotte stores, Friend-Daniel said.

The grocer has also suspended its in-store food sampling. Also, the company is extending leaves and offering additional sick time, access to health care, and bonuses, Friend-Daniel said.

Starting March 15 and until further notice, Walmart stores and Neighborhood Markets will operate 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. This will help “ensure associates can clean and stock products,” the retailer says on its website. Additionally, store managers can limit sale of certain items “that are in unusually high demand.”

Until April 16, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are under a stay at home order. Grocery shopping is still permitted, though, as it is an “essential need.”

Officials have said repeatedly that there’s no need to stockpile groceries amid the coronavirus outbreak. Still, empty grocery shelves are common these days.

Of course, panic shopping isn’t unique to Charlotte. Around the country, other retailers are taking similar steps to respond to surging demand.

This week, CNBC talked to experts about why people panic buy items like toilet paper. Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, told the outlet it’s “about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control.”

Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a lecturer in consumer and business psychology at University College London, called toilet paper “an icon” of mass panic. He told CNBC that a lack of clear direction from authority figures fuels peoples’ anxiety.

Around Charlotte, grocers continue to work to keep their shelves clean and stocked. Here’s what a few others are doing:

  • Target is temporarily closing all its stores every night at 9 p.m. to clean and restock. Additionally, it’s reserving the first hour of operation at all stores every Wednesday for elderly shoppers and those with underlying health conditions.
  • Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of Bi-Lo and Harveys, is reserving the hours of 8-9 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays as shopping for healthcare workers and first responders. Seniors and “high risk” customers have their own shopping period from 8-9 a.m., Monday-Friday.
  • The Fresh Market says it is discontinuing in-store sampling and increased its sanitizing. From 8-9 each morning, Monday-Friday, The Fresh Market is offering reserved shopping for seniors and “those most at risk.”
  • Compare Foods is reserving the hours of 7-9 a.m. to customers 60 and over. “This is meant to give those customers the opportunity to shop in a safer environment with less risk of contracting COVID-19 from the general population,” the grocer said.
  • Dollar General is similarly encouraging all stores to reserve its first hour of business each day for seniors to shop. Dollar General stores nationwide will close an hour early each day to allow workers time to clean and restock.
  • Lidl says it’s working with its supply chain partners to keep its inventory stocked. Spokesman Will Harwood also said the grocer will impose limits on certain items, determined at the store level. “Throughout this period of high demand, we are working as hard as we can to limit impacts on availability as much as possible,” Harwood said.
  • Whole Foods has also temporarily suspended its in-store sampling. It also is not allowing reusable containers at its smoothie and coffee bars. At all of its stores, Whole Foods is opening an hour early just for shoppers 60 and older before it opens to the general public. Additionally, Whole Foods is expanding grocery delivery service for Prime members, according to its website.
  • Reid’s Fine Foods is, in compliance with Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order on restaurants, closing to dine-in customers. But it is providing free grocery delivery to all shoppers over 60 (no minimum required, but they must live within 5 miles of a Reid’s.) For everyone else, delivery is free for orders over $100.
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club has suspended its in-store sampling and says it’s working to restock high-demand inventory as quickly as possible. BJ’s also may limit purchases of certain items.

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