Reading Grocery Stores Respond to Crisis

Long lines stretch along the entirety of the Market Basket storefront – Photo by Julia Corbett

Reading, MA – Among the many new realities for residents living under stay at home orders, one image has emerged on hundreds of social media pages: that of empty grocery store shelves.

Grocery stores are listed as one of the essential businesses on Governor Baker’s March 24rd Emergency Order and have often been on the front line of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation as residents attempt to stock up for the long days of quarantine and self-isolation ahead.

As of April 2, Market Baskets across New England have started to limit the number of people who can shop in the stores at any given time. The Reading store is currently capping its capacity at 150, which has led to long lines of shoppers waiting to get into the store. The wall outside of the door is covered by signs promoting the store’s usual sales, as well as large posters calling for shoppers to stand six feet apart as they wait. 

Before entering the store, customers are greeted by an employee who sanitizes a shopping cart before passing it to them. According to a letter signed by President & CEO of Market Basket, Arthur T. Demoulas, the store is taking extra cleaning precautions throughout the store, stating that checkout areas and deli equipment are disinfected every four hours and that surfaces such as “door handles, windows, registers, counters, tables, chairs, handle baskets, carriage handles [and] restroom facilities” are also being cleaned with greater regularity. 

The Frequently Asked Questions section of the store’s website also states that employees’ time off requests are being granted immediately, and that “associates have been informed that they do not need to report to work if they feel any apprehension.” 

As for the empty shelves, Demoulas states that they are working closely with their suppliers, but “Where demand nationwide is pressuring product supplies, we have implemented limits on select items.”

A few feet away at Stop & Shop, a similar story is taking place.

I went to Stop & Shop because the line at Market Basket was too long, but I think everyone else had the same idea because it was crowded there too.”

Reading resident Mark Cronin-Golomb

According to the Frequently Asked Questions pamphlet on its website, Stop & Shop is not currently capping the number of customers allowed in the store at a given time.

“We are in compliance with local and state regulations as it relates to the number of people in a store. In most cases, limits on the number of people allowed in an establishment do not apply to supermarkets” the pamphlet states. 

Stop & Shop does currently have buying limits on certain products, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Despite these efforts, stores still find themselves out of stock of these products.

“Although we are restocking shelves all day, every day, due to unprecedented demand, we have had difficulty keeping certain items in stock. Manufacturers have instituted nationwide limitations on a number of products, which has prevented us from getting enough to meet demand in certain cases” states the pamphlet. 

Empty paper goods aisle at Stop & Shop

Like Market Basket, Stop & Shop has instituted early shopping hours for residents who are 60 years old or older, or people who have weakened immune systems. These hours are from 6 am to 7:30 am.

Reading resident Roberta Moore, a Stop & Shop worker shared tips to shoppers via her Facebook page.

“People, Please! Only one member per family should do the grocery shopping at a time. Do not bring your elderly parents. If you are over 60, DO NOT bring your parent, Do not treat a trip to the grocery store like a date!”

Moore continued with a list of mask suggestions:

Your mask won’t do any good if you:

  • Remove it for a cell phone call that takes 20 minutes in the store. Text or go to your car.
  • Remove it to talk to someone. Thank you for trying to be clear, but don’t take it off.
  • Wear it like a necklace.
  • Covers only your mouth. Breathing involves your nose also.

In addition to these efforts, Stop & Shop states that it is encouraging employees to wash their hands every 20-30 minutes and to stay home if they are feeling ill.

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