While many businesses in Hay River have closed as a precaution against coronavirus/COVID-19, there are exceptions, probably none more important to the community than grocery stores.
Yet, they too are feeling the impact.
“I think the world and our community is upside down, totally upside down,” said Steve Anderson, an owner and a manager at Super A Foods. “And we’re trying to navigate through all these changes and come up with plans on a daily basis that seem to change from one day to the next.”
Anderson said Super A is doing its best to serve customers and the com
munity, while keeping everyone safe and healthy, including its employees.
After a quick check of his computer, he can actually point to the exact date when Super A saw an increase in business as a result of coronavirus/COVID-19.
“From our point of view, our customer count picked up on March 8,” he said. “That’s when we noticed a big spike in customer purchases.”
That increase in demand has been for a wide assortment of items from ground beef to dog food to frozen food to canned products to flour to dairy products.
“It’s really across the board,” said Anderson, who noted Super A has probably seen an over 20 per cent increase in sales.
However, customers seem to be particularly concerned that they have enough bathroom tissue.
“That seems to be the one thing,” said Anderson. “In the beginning, that’s what people were coming in and buying. We went through a large quantity in one day and ran out. But that seems to be settled down a bit. It’s not as bad as what it was in the first couple of days.”
Jeff Boyce, the grocery manager at Super A, believes people are stocking up on certain items that they don’t generally buy just in case they’re isolated to their homes at some point.
However, Boyce advises those worried customers to be calm and weather the storm.
“It’s not like we’re not ordering the product,” he said. “The product is on its way.”
The increased demand has put pressure on Super A and its wholesaler, which also supplies many stores in Alberta.
“They’re doing the best they can to provide orders to the stores, and they’re literally working as hard as they can to get trucks loaded and out the doors and on the way to the stores,” said Anderson.
“And they realize that Hay River is one of their more distant stores, so they’re doing the best they can to make sure that we get product that we order, but realizing that it is limited. So in saying that, we’ve really got to avoid this panic buying type of scenario.”
Anderson, who also happens to be a Hay River town councillor, said people need to remain calm.
While Super A is supplying its customers, it is also concerned about its employees.
A grocery store is normally a social gathering ground, Anderson noted.
“But really at this stage, it’s getting in, getting your order and then leaving so that somebody else can come in,” he said.
Later last week, Super A announced via social media that a maximum of 25 customers will be permitted in the store at any one time to help maintain store-wide social distancing.
There will also be a purchase limit of $150 to prevent stockpiling.
Laura Cardinal, a cashier at Super A who has worked there for 21 years, is concerned about the novel coronavirus.
“I’m very scared,” she said. “I’m working with the public. Money is the dirtiest thing, I think, to touch.”
Cardinal, who started wearing gloves on March 16, said it would be better if people paid with debit cards rather than cash.
The employee said she would stop working if the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation gets really bad.
Cashiers are on the frontline, said Boyce.
“It’s up to them. If they don’t want to work, they don’t have to work,” he said.