Supermarkets feeling the brunt of ‘panic buying’

Updates on the novel coronavirus have led to a run on stores and empty shelves

Toilet paper? Gone. Paper towels? Gone. Disinfectant? Gone. Hand sanitizer? Gone. 

Higher-than-normal volumes and purchases in stores have made managers restructure the work force, restocking methods and more as public reaction to COVID-19 (or the novel coronavirus strain) has left shelves empty, and some shoppers searching for answers. 

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“We’re trying to get the products in the stores and we’re not able to,” said Ronald H. Murphy, vice president at Murphy’s Markets. “We’re having difficulty sourcing the things we would typically carry for.”

Murphy’s and the ShopRite of Medford are both experiencing severe shortages in hand sanitizer, disinfectant products, paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, etc.) and cleaning supplies such as bleach.

Murphy said he has seen items sell out since New Jersey’s coronavirus cases have risen. 

ShopRite was experiencing the same effects with longer than usual lines at registers and self check out. On March 13, Assistant Store Manager Rob Taylor joined his fellow managers in directing shoppers to specific aisles.

Shoppers filling their weekly grocery lists lingered in the paper products aisle searching for what was left. 

“It’s insane that people are doing this because they’re not leaving stuff for people that do need it,” ShopRite customer Edward Tamburo Jr. said. “There might be an individual who has parents, their husbands, wives and others that needs toilet paper, that needs something.

“You’ve got to work together and watch out for each other.”

ShopRite of Medford has yet to respond to an inquiry from The Sun as it deals with the high volume of customers. 

Murphy said shelves have been restocked slowly as his stores’ supplier is focused on getting household products to governments, health care professionals, schools and other places that “have a greater need.” 

Multiple purchases spurred by the pandemic have nearly wiped out ShopRite’s stock of meats, bread and cleaning supplies.. 

“They’re stockpiling this and they don’t need it,” Tamburo said. “I’m going to be a grandfather soon and I want to make sure I’m OK, my wife, who’s a teacher, (and) my daughter are OK.”

As of deadline, Murphy’s Markets had not yet seen the same effects in its meat departments. Store employees were directed to wipe down self-checkouts and registers for disinfecting. 

In hindsight, Murphy said the company should have imposed strict quantity limits so everyone could get supplies. 

“We weren’t able to buy in the amount of quantities they (ShopRite) were, so by the time it came time to order those products in the store, we weren’t able to put the limits on products because we were sold out of them,” he explained. 

Tamburo believes the shopping frenzy could induce anxiety and panic in young kids,

 “They showed a video of a Costco in Southern California where the line to get in was two hours long,” he explained. “Those lines are longer than (Disney rides) It’s a Small World and Space Mountain.

“Just to get in you have to wait for so long.”

Shoppers, Tamburo opined, could get inventive with their lists, such as cutting a roll of paper towels in half to act as toilet paper or using “certain types” of mouthwash as hand sanitizer. 

Starting March 17, stores such as Murphy’s Markets and ShopRite of Medford were permitted to be open past the state’s 8 p.m. curfew. Gov. Phil Murphy added those stores (including gas stations, pharmacies and medical offices) do not have to abide by the evening closure mandated for non-essential retail.

“As a grocery store, we do intend on staying open for as long as possible, and as much as possible, so that the community can get what they need and feel safe, and have the things they need to stay safe at home,” Murphy reiterated. 

“We have to pull together in times of need,” Tamburo added. “I don’t care about your political views, religion — if you need toilet paper, I will give it to you. We’ve got to come together.”

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