It's weird timing to open a new grocery store, sure. But a new Grocery Outlet location opened on schedule in Prunedale on March 17, hours before the county Health Department announced a shelter-in-place order would take effect at midnight on March 18.
The local owner-operators decided to move forward, with one modification: They cancelled grand opening plans for a community activity day with a raffle and giveaway, to be rescheduled at a later date.
Grocery stores, convenience stores and farmers markets are allowed to remain open for the duration of the shelter-in-place order for their role in providing "essential services." (That does include liquor stores, many of which sell non-alcoholic beverages and snacks in addition to alcohol.)
Not all farmers markets chose to stay open, like the Alvarado Street market in downtown Monterey on Tuesdays—that market is closed for now and could reopen when the shelter-in-place order is lifted. It's best to check individual websites before attending. One market moved, the popular Friday market at Monterey Peninsula College. It's now at the Del Monte Center in the parking lot near Chipotle and Starbucks from 9am-2pm each Friday.
Many stores are open for reduced hours to allow for additional sanitizing and cleaning procedures, and some are open only to seniors at some hours to encourage shoppers who are at a high risk of complications from Covid-19 to shop in relatively uncrowded conditions. (Even if a store is busy, customers are expected to maintain 6 feet of space between each other to prevent the spread of coronavirus.)
The California Grocers Association is recommending some guidelines for safe shopping.
"Obviously food safety and the safety of consumers and employees is paramount to retailers," association spokesperson Dave Heylen says. "There really isn't one standard, but there are a lot of best practices out there. It may differ from store to store."
Examples include: regular announcements over PA systems to remind shoppers to remain at least 6 feet apart (a distance equivalent to about two shopping cart lengths); only one member of a household should go shopping, rather than a whole family; stores should keep every other register open to avoid crowds; providing hand sanitizer for all employees; to change payment practices to minimize the frequency with with employees handle money or credit cards.
"[Grocery store employees] really are heroes to be on the front line like that every day, to ensure customers have access to the food and goods they need," Heylen says.
Many grocery store employees are at home for a variety of reasons, whether caring for a family member who is ill with Covid-19, or providing child care while children are out of school. Heylen adds that many stores are hiring at the moment, even while some other industries have screeched to a halt.
The California Grocers Association is also encouraging people not to overstock on goods, whether food or toilet paper, to help avoid the unsettling sight of bare shelves.
"If the system can run normally, there are no problems with restocking on a normal basis," Heylen says. "Overbuying puts a strain on the entire supply chain."
At Star Market in Salinas, the overbuying has largely subsided. "Last week was a panic buy," says Victor Kong, store manager. "People were scrambling for pasta, beans and toilet paper."
This week, he says, things are mostly back to normal—he's at about 70-percent of his regular stock, and has everything available though for some items, fewer choices than usual. Paper towels and toilet paper remain hard to stock.
Rather than being open the usual seven days a week, Star Market is closed on Sundays and Wednesdays to give staff a chance to rest, and Kong is preparing for a continuously busy time. "I've added more help, and have more help scheduled," he says. "It's working well now."
For updated grocery hours, shoppers are advised to call and confirm. A partial list of stores with hours dedicated to customers who have existing health issues that put them in a high-risk category for Covid-19, or who are over age 60, includes:
Andronico’s, Monterey: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9am
Safeway, Del Rey Oaks: Tuesdays and Thursdays from store opening to 9am
Target, Sand City: Wednesdays from 8-9am
Whole Foods, Monterey: Daily from 8-9am (for ages 60+; identification checked at the door)