BenitoLink Reporter Leslie David also contributed to this article.
In the midst of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) worries, several local supermarkets and pharmacies in San Benito County have run out of toilet paper, hand sanitizers and other cleaning products. BenitoLink contacted several main markets to learn more about the situation and how they were handling the sudden demand. Local store owner, Chang So has been moderating his customer’s purchases when necessary, to help make products serve more.
“Customers started coming trying to buy all the stuff early this week,” said Chang So, owner of the Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista and the two Hollister Super Markets. He listed toilet paper, bottled water and chlorine wipes as being the most desirable items.
“When we ran out of toilet paper, they started buying Kleenex facial tissue!”
So said his stores have not been able to keep up with customer demand for hand sanitizer either.
“As soon as we get it in, it goes out,” he said. “Yesterday, we had a warehouse delivery and I helped stock the shelves with toilet paper. Five to 10 minutes later, they were all gone! I’ve never experienced that before.”
Customers were also buying large quantities of water, he said. “I thought, ‘am I missing something?’”
In an email to BenitoLink, Victoria Castro, public affairs manager with Save Mart Companies (Lucky) said, “Our stores are seeing a higher demand for cleaning and personal hygiene products from our customers. We are working diligently with our vendors and suppliers to ensure the ongoing availability of the high-demand products. If customers do not see specific products on our shelves today, we encourage them to come back tomorrow because we are working around the clock to replenish our inventory.”
However eyewitness reports confirmed that Castro’s information was not accurate. Lucky’s shelves reserved for paper products were completely bare this week as well.
Castro also said in the email that she did not expect the company to limit the amount of supplies their customers can purchase at this time. Other Hollister supermarkets’ public information offices did not respond to requests for information.
On the morning of March 14, shoppers were lined up waiting for Target to open. They reported that Nob Hill had run low on pasta, cleaning and paper products on March 12, and had no toilet paper or paper towels on March 13. A Safeway employee said it was her understanding their warehouse was close to empty and she did not know when they would be supplying stores again. On the morning of March, 14 Target was down to about 10 to 15 packs of toilet paper. An employee of Target said they expected more paper products on Monday.
So told BenitoLink that although he loves to see his store so busy, “there is some irrational behavior happening.” His business is booming, “but we have a social responsibility to our community to make sure people are served.”
“When we started seeing a surge with customers buying an inappropriate amount, we limited everything in high demand,” So said. Prior to that, he saw customers buying 10 packs of toilet paper at a time. “I talked to the store managers and we decided we need to do something morally responsible so we have enough for the whole community.”
He added that the demand goes beyond toilet paper, water, bleach or hand sanitizer. Now,
customers are buying large quantities of sugar, flour, and big bags of beans and rice. He said shoppers are starting to get supplies like canned goods and easy to prepare foods.
“We’re being shorted a little, not getting deliveries the way we would normally get them,” So said. “The warehouses are having the same problems.”
The stores will keep receiving regular deliveries, but supplies will continue to be a little less than normal, he said.
“We’ve never been so busy. We were not prepared for something like this.”