“We’ve been very busy ... which is good, but during unfortunate times,” reports Harmeyer’s Market third generation owner Steve Harmeyer.
The small Batesville market delivers to homes, and has for years, even before the COVID-19 threat began. Deliveries are “probably about double right now,” according to him. If shoppers call in their lists before 9:30 or 10 a.m. “we can guarantee (items arriving) that day. If it gets too much past that, it may be the next day” before groceries are dropped off.
“We do a lot of deliveries also to businesses,” which order supplies, drinks and snacks. “It’s kind of a give-and-take. Certain ones have slowed up, but we’re offsetting that by a lot of other deliveries.”
He adds, “We do offer a curbside pickup. We’re doing quite a few of those. People can call in ahead or simply pull up and give us a list.” They wait in the vehicle while the order is filled.
The Village Store, Oldenburg, owner Jeff Paul notes, “We’ve just been blown away business-wise (although) the last two days have slowed up.”
Erin Rolfes, Kroger Cincinnati/Dayton Division corporate affairs manager, says, “We have seen a high volume of traffic in our stores as the pandemic continues.” Kroger officials do not share sales and shipping to homes data about specific stores.
Hours at two of the three area stores have been shortened, and one has designated a special hour for those at most risk to become infected with the virus.
Across the division, all Kroger stores, including Batesville, are open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week. She explains, “We’ve adjusted our store operating hours to allow more time for our associates to rest, clean and replenish inventory.”
Rolfes observes, “We appreciate the concern and care our customers are expressing for senior shoppers and the more vulnerable customers. All customers deserve to have access to affordable, fresh food and essentials. Here in the Cincinnati-Dayton Division, we are inviting seniors and those high-risk populations (as defined by the CDC) to shop Monday-Thursday from 7 a.m.-8 a.m.
Starting March 23, The Village Store began closing at 7 p.m. instead of 9. According to Paul, “That gives us time at night to stock back up our shelves and sanitize baskets, cart handles, light switches, check lanes, anything people are coming in contact with often.”
What advice do grocers have for consumers? Paul points out, “The main thing is not to panic. The supply is out there. It just got hit all at one time so there were some things in short supply. The industry is set up so stuff comes in on a constant basis ... it took a while to get caught back up. Only buy what you need.”
The Kroger spokesperson agrees, “We would encourage everyone to practice responsible shopping, following FDA guidance to shop for what a family needs for one week.”
Store procedures are different because of the coronavirus. At Harmeyer’s Market, there’s “certainly more attention to the cleaning detail,” says the owner.
At the Batesville Kroger, “we continue to enhance our daily sanitation practices, including cleaning commonly used areas more often, like cashier stations, self-checkouts, credit card terminals, food service counters and shelves. And we are now installing plexiglass partitions at many cash registers, to further promote physical distancing. Many of our stores are beginning the installation process this week, and we anticipate every check lane having a partition, including pharmacy counters ..., within the next several weeks. In addition, we are installing educational floor decals to promote physical distancing at check lanes and other counters.”
“We’ve had to make a few adjustments” at The Village Store because of the crisis. The weekly ad isn’t being printed now because Paul couldn’t get guarantees on pricing and products. “If you advertise something, then you don’t have it, that would be upsetting to customers.” After manufacturers quit offering discounted items, he is starting to see them again.
What items are shoppers stampeding in to buy? Paul answers, “We can’t figure out why, but it’s toilet paper. Industrywide, it’s the craziest thing.” The store was sold out for two days, but now is getting two deliveries a week from the wholesale supplier, which consists of three or four cases instead of the usual eight. Paul has had to limit purchases of TP, eggs, milk and bread to discourage hoarders.
He says customers should expect temporary spikes in pricing. “Beef is really volatile from one delivery to the next,” sometimes increasing 90 cents per pound. Egg prices are fluctuating, too. Paul predicts, “You’re going to see those prices come back to normal.”
He has noticed manufacturers are adapting to the pandemic. “Normally we’d have 10 or 15 varieties of Aunt Millie’s” bread. The maker has switched production so now the company “might only produce three or four items, but as much of it as they possibly can.”
Deliveries are arriving more frequently at The Village Store. Laurel Grocery Co., London, Kentucky, which transports IGA products, has doubled up and more meat trucks are stopping in Oldenburg. He reports, “A lot of the vending community has really stepped up and added extra deliveries for us.”
Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Harmeyer’s was out of bread and toilet paper, but he was hoping some would show up in the morning. Customers also have been clamoring to buy hamburger, pork, chicken, flour and bread. “We received several meat deliveries yesterday and today. We are trying our best to keep more inventory, but that’s very trying at the moment.”
He has added a couple more meat selections for everyone staying at home. On the other hand, “hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes are next to impossible to get.”
According to Rolfes, “We have placed purchase limits on several essential items to ensure each customer has an opportunity to purchase key items they need.”
Store officials have been advised by the Indiana State Department of Health not to accept any returns “just to be safe for all folks,” according to Paul.
Coping with the coronavirus “has certainly been very stressful for the employees ... It’s great that everyone’s pitching in to help,” Harmeyer says.
At The Village Store, “our staff has just been excellent. All the employees have chipped in,” some working 12- and 15-hour shifts. Because it is a small business, family members of the owner and employees also have helped out.
At Kroger, “we’ve let our associates know they are permitted to wear protective masks and gloves. There is a national shortage of personal protective equipment like this, and we fully support America’s health care workers having first priority to obtain the equipment they need. We are advocating to government officials at all levels for help securing a priority place in line for all grocery workers – after health care workers – to have access to protective masks and gloves,” Rolfes notes.
With customers stocking up, are more grocery workers needed? Paul points out, “You don’t know how long it’s going to last. You really can’t go out and hire somebody for five or 10 days.” He needed more help at the full-service meat counter, but “it would be impossible to train a meat cutter on the fly.”
“I have added some staff,” says Harmeyer, but he hasn’t decided about hiring more. “We’re kind of waiting to see how this plays out in the next week.”
Kroger is hiring across the Cincinnati-Dayton Division. Anyone interested in learning more can visit jobs.kroger.com to view and apply for available positions. Rolfes says, “In some cases, we are able to hire new associates in as little as 48 hours.”
How are shoppers behaving? She responds, “We are asking our customers to be patient, to be kind to one another and our associates ...” Harmeyer concurs, “We certainly appreciate everyone being courteous and kind to everyone else.”
The Village Store owner reports, “For the most part, we’re very blessed to have the good people we have. Probably for the first week, when everybody really panicked, we saw a few people who got a little out of line. When we told them only 4 pounds of ground chuck or beef, some of those were really upset.”
Paul reflects, “Times can bring out the best or worst in people. This week I think it’s really changed. We’re seeing the best in people.” On Monday the store’s credit and debit machines were not working for about two hours. “A gentleman wanted to buy some items, but just had a credit card. A young man I’d never seen before handed me the money and said, ‘Take care of the guy.’” They were strangers, but the younger shopper gave $5 so the older man could take home what he needed.
“Just a half hour ago the Brau Haus came over with chicken and french fries and rolls, the whole 9 yards. An (anonymous) customer called in the order and asked them to bring it over here. They really appreciated us staying open and everybody who was working here.”
He recalls another example of generosity. A local citizen told Paul, “I know you know people in this town. Here’s some money. You know who needs it. You take care of them.”
The owner believes, “There’s lots of angels out there.”