Customers experience dismay in grocery stores as the COVID-19 pandemic continues

Shelves+in+the+Vons+off+of+Tapo+Canyon+Road%2C+in+Simi+Valley%2C+remain+empty+after+crowds+of+customers+purchase+all+the+canned+goods+on+Friday%2C+March+20.+Photo+credit%3A+Evan+Reinhardt

Shelves in the Vons off of Tapo Canyon Road, in Simi Valley, remain empty after crowds of customers purchase all the canned goods on Friday, March 20. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

By David Reyes and Evan Reinhardt

As the globe continues to react to the current COVID-19 pandemic, local grocery stores stand on the front lines of public panic and preparation. From larger wholesale stores to small town markets, business owners are feeling the pressure, as some consumers have had the urge to stockpile.

Many shelves carrying goods like toilet tissue, facial tissue, paper towels, canned food, sanitizer and household cleaners remain empty during the day, but are often restocked overnight for opening. This occurs at most major grocery stores and markets, including Vons, Ralph’s, Albertsons, Costco and others. Although many stores appear to be running low, many shoppers and store managers report that customers are getting most of what they need.

Summer Bartholomew searches for a few items at the Ralph's in Moorpark on Thursday, March 26. Bartholomew works on a ranch in Moorpark, and says that if people didn't stockpile, there would always be enough to go around.
Summer Bartholomew searches for a few items at the Ralph's in Moorpark on Thursday, March 26. Bartholomew works on a ranch in Moorpark, and says that if people didn't stockpile, there would always be enough to go around. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Local shopper Carleen Schraml spoke about her surprisingly mellow experience inside the Vons off of Erringer Road in Simi Valley.

“It was very calm and there were not that many people in there honestly. Especially on a Sunday, you’d expect a Sunday to be more crowded,” Schraml said.

On March 19, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order to ‘stay at home.’ Since the order, general chaos in grocery stores has declined, according to Schraml and other shoppers. In the beginning though, many consumers struggled to find what they were looking for.

“I saw one instance (of hoarding). I was turning onto the pasta aisle, and there was a gentleman with so much pasta in his arms, he couldn’t carry it all. I turned onto the pasta aisle, and there was nothing left,” Schraml explained. “But now, not so much. I think everyone has got what they need.”

Local Vons locations were unable to comment on the current events, but are practicing the safe guidelines for social distancing and limiting how many of a single item customers may take. Stores like Vons and Vallarta in Simi Valley are also prioritizing the elderly and at-risk members of the public in the morning hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Shelves formerly carrying facial tissue lay empty after customers clear the store's stock on Thursday, March
Shelves formerly carrying facial tissue lay empty after customers clear the store's stock on Thursday, March 26. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Rifaat Hijaz, owner of the Mayflower Market & Liquor store in Moorpark, explained the change in customers and demand for items during the month of March.

“For being a mini-super market, it’s been real busy. You know, overwhelming,” Hijaz said. “But that was a couple weeks ago. Now, at least it’s been great having new customers that discover us.”

As a small business owner in Moorpark, Hijaz welcomes the new flock of customers.

“The first week, it was three times what we normally get,” Hijaz described. “And now, it’s almost 50% more. People have calmed down and stayed home.”

The Mayflower Market remains open for customers on Thursday, April 2, in Moorpark, Calif. Owner Rifaat Hijaz says that most items are stocked up, and business is doing well with the increased flow of customers.
The Mayflower Market remains open for customers on Thursday, April 2, in Moorpark, Calif. Owner Rifaat Hijaz says that most items are stocked up, and business is doing well with the increased flow of customers. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Many shoppers are dealing with the change in different ways. Some are taking proper safety precautions like wearing masks and gloves, while many others attempt to ignore the paranoia. On both sides, most shoppers are staying aware of busy hours and prioritizing essential goods.

Another shopper, Zenen Bolaños, expressed his discontentment with seeing empty shelves and a paranoid public reaction.

“It’s a little crazy. You could kind of see it all coming, with the fear being spread. People were kind of over-hyping it,” Bolaños said. “I got four kids, so we were ready anyways.”

For alternative ways to shop, many are using Amazon and other delivery services to have food and essentials delivered to homes. The main goal is to limit human contact, while staying healthy and equipped with the proper resources.