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COVID-19 Changing How Wisconsin Grocery Stores Operate

Retailers Scale Back Hours So They Can Clean, Restock Shelves

Grocery stores around the country are closing earlier than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic so they can clean and restock depleted shelves. Hy-Vee at 675 S. Whitney Way in Madison also has special shopping times for older customers and others who are vulnerable to infection. In this March 18, 2020 photo, the store notifies customers of the change and also asks those with flu-like symptoms to use drive up services. Shamane Mills/WPR

There may be no more midnight runs for late night snacks at your favorite grocery store. Food retailers around Wisconsin are reacting to the spread of the new coronavirus by opening and closing at different times.

“It is essential for us to continue to do business in a safe, clean environment with products that our communities need,” said Mark Skogen, Festival Foods president and CEO in a statement. The chain has its headquarters in Onalaska.

Many grocery stores are closing early to clean and restock shelves depleted by shoppers loading up on goods, forcing retailers to limit how many high-demand items consumers can purchase. One hot item is toilet paper

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Other desperately sought-after items are cleaning supplies.

“I’ve been here three times in the last week and there hasn’t been any toilet paper and very few cleaning products on the shelves,” said a shopper outside a Hy-Vee store on Madison’s West Side Wednesday. “I would urge shoppers that others are in need also,” said the slightly irritated man who declined to give his full name.

That store and others are setting special shopping hours for the elderly and those who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Our kids are very concerned because we’re in that age group,” said Madison resident Barb Erlenborn, 76, at the Hy-Vee.

“Yeah, we get calls from them every day to see if we’re still alive,” added her husband, Jim Erlenborn, 77.

Aaron Macalus is a manager at a Hy-Vee store on Madison’s West Side. He and other employees in the store wear gloves to prevent transmission of COVID-19. In this March 18, 2020 photo, he prepares grocery orders for delivery and pickup, both of which have increased because of the pandemic. Shamane Mills/WPR

The COVID-19 pandemic has been top of mind for grocery stores, which unlike other retailers, are seeing increased demand, not less. On its website, the Wisconsin Grocers Association has a COVID-19 page to update retailers and warehouse personnel on local, state and federal government changes specific to the COVID-19 emergency.

One of them relates to getting products from warehouses to grocery stores. Recently Gov. Tony Evers lifted weight restrictions on trucks so grocery stores could keep shelves stocked.

Some stores address the pandemic on their company website, detailing what steps they’re taking to limit transmission of the new virus. Many provide hand sanitizer near shopping carts and doors.

Joey Wedel was cleaning his hands with a sanitary wipe after returning a shopping cart to a parking lot corral outside Hy-Vee, which has reduced the hours it will be open. Instead of 24 hours, the store will be open 12 hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., until further notice.

“It doesn’t affect me too much and I certainly think understanding the situation and taking it in stride is more important than the need to eat or shop at 9 p.m. It doesn’t really impact me that much,” he said.

Many stores, including Festival Foods and Hy-Vee, have restaurants or even bars at their locations where shoppers can eat and drink. But not anymore. Tuesday Gov. Tony Evers ordered the state health department to limit bars and restaurants to carry-out and delivery service only in an attempt to reduce spread of the new coronavirus.

There are also other changes within the store customers may notice.

“We’ve shut down self-serve donut cases. And we’ve closed our salad bar, our olive bars and soup bars—anything that’s open air or self-serve,” said Hy-Vee spokesperson Janelle Grunwald.

But some customers are choosing to stay away from the store and shop online for their groceries instead. Aaron Macalus, a Hy-Vee manager on Madison’s West Side said the store is hoping to hire more personal shoppers because delivery and pickup has increased.

“Eighty deliveries and 12 pickups for the first three hours of the morning until it finally tapered off,” he said.

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