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Out-of-town shoppers plunder local stores

Staff writer

An epidemic of panic-buying triggered by an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has emptied stores in larger cities and now has managers of the county’s food stores worried about keeping their own shelves stocked.

Toilet paper, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer were quickly snapped up by shoppers who flooded shops this past weekend.

The hunt for sought-after items drew people to the county from as far away as Salina and Wichita, prompting two area grocers to impose purchase limits to discourage hoarding.

One item only, please

Peabody Market still has toilet paper and bleach in stock, but sales of these items have been limited to one per customer, manager Cathy Wiens said.

The small-town grocer has fielded calls from people from Wichita looking for shops that still have meat, bottled water and toilet paper in stock.

Residents Dustin Glenn and Carrie Watts say they recently saw a woman at the local Dollar Store loading four to five packages of toilet paper into a vehicle with Sedgwick County license plates.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Watts said. “You need to stock up on food, not toilet paper, but I don’t know. Maybe when I run out of toilet paper I won’t think it’s so ridiculous.”

Wiens said owners hope restricting sales will protect Peabody Market’s regular customers.

“We are limiting what we sell to keep people from coming in from outside the community and overbuying, leaving people in the community with nothing,” Wiens said.

Many of Peabody’s residents don’t have the ability to buy groceries elsewhere — and Peabody Market exists to serve them, she said.

“The money is nice, but I want to make sure things are available in my community. I want to take care of it first,” she said.

In the meantime, Wiens said, she worries supply shortages that have hit larger groceries will affect them as well. The market’s supplier assured her they will be able to fill their order and she hopes this will be true when the truck arrives Tuesday.

“We’ll find out when we get it,” she said.

Wiens sympathizes with people in nearby cities like Newton who have been confronted with empty store shelves and hopes for an quick end to the binge buying.

“I wish people would take a breath and slow down a bit and realize that if they buy up everything, there isn’t stuff left for people who can’t afford to buy it all at once and stock up,” she said.

Stocking the shelves

The cashiers at Dale’s Supermarket in Hillsboro had their hands full Monday afternoon as they struggled to help a line of customers that threaded down the aisle.

Dale’s is out of both toilet paper and hand sanitizer despite owner Dale Franz’s policy limiting purchases to one per household, with two allowed for paper towels.

Franz put his foot down this past Thursday after several visitors from Salina began loading their cars with four to five packs of toilet paper they purchased from the store.

“It’s totally unnecessary, they don’t need it,” he said. “How much toilet paper can you go through in a month?”

Franz said he would rather save supplies for his own customers.

“If you drove all the way from Salina, you can have one pack of toilet paper, he said.

Allison Maxfield, a five-year employee of the market, said things have been this busy since Friday, which was worse than the days before Christmas.

Many customers had traveled from Marion, Goessel and Newton to try and find toilet paper.

Franz can recall when the closing of his competitor and threat of a snowstorm years ago saw the Hillsboro store swamped by an even bigger mob.

But for now, he worries over Monday and Thursday deliveries from suppliers that keep him stocked.

“I am concerned with getting produce in and keeping the shelves full,” he said from behind the meat counter.

Maxfield said she is looking forward to the end of the chaos.

“I hope and pray that God is with us during this crazy problem, and it will blow over at some point,” she said. “But we just have to keep pushing through.”

Supply and demand

Greg Carlson, owner of Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion, said the weekend was “crazy busy,” especially on Friday when their business doubled.

“It was better than the day before Easter,” he said. “It was very good.”

Linda Carlson, manager, said Tuesday night that Carlsons’ received an e-mail with multiple pages of allocated items from a supplier. The store will not be running its weekly ads until further notice because of this.

Toilet paper was available at the store until Monday morning when the case a supplier delivered earlier in the day ran out, Greg Carlson said.

“The whole top rows of shelves were full of toilet paper and it’s all gone,” he said, pointing at shelving near the back. “Now, I can’t get it from my warehouse, and my warehouse is having problems getting products in.”

The store receives goods every Monday and Thursday, but Carlson said he is worried he may not get everything he ordered as supplies of some items become more limited.

“I ordered more toilet paper to come in Thursday,” Greg Carlson said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Last modified March 18, 2020

 

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