SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — Area stores are struggling to keep stock of essential items as shoppers panic buy staples, leaving some shelves completely empty.
Wednesday morning, Kroger, Meijer and Walmart in Caledonia Township all were completely out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other items. Photos shared online from VG’s showed the bread aisle nearly bare.
Since Michigan officials began issuing orders for restaurants, bars, schools and other places to close, people have been stocking up on a variety of items to ride out the coronavirus pandemic. Closure orders in Michigan currently run into early April.
Local stores are implementing different levels of safety protocols in an effort to protect workers and customers.
Wednesday, a store manager at Kroger refused to comment when asked about the situation. Managers at Meijer and Walmart referred questions to respective corporate headquarters, which did not comment before press time.
An unidentified worker at Kroger said the store has been unable to obtain full supplies of hand sanitizer and toilet paper from their warehouse for close to a week. The store was also sold out of such products as flour.
Kroger has implemented restrictions on essential items each customer can purchase, allowing only three per customer. Water, over-the-counter cold and flu medicine, soap, vitamins, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, facial tissue and bleach are among the items restricted.
Meijer representatives in Corunna would not allow a reporter to tour the store to see its safety protocols.
However, at the entrance of the store, a worker could be seen wiping down carts individually as customers took them. Workers at the store have also placed black X’s 6 feet away from certain areas, such as the deli counter, to enforce social distancing. The CDC recommends people remain at least 6 feet apart to help prevent new infections.
Some stores are also limiting hours to increase cleaning.
Walmart changed its hours to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. effective March 15 to allow disinfecting.
When the panic buying started, it was large national retailers that were selling out first and smaller local stores remained stocked. That appears to have changed in the last few days, according to Carl’s Market (Perry) manager Scott Joseph.
“People are stocking up on things like bread, milk and especially toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We’re all out of toilet paper and haven’t been able to get hardly any. I ordered 90 cases and got 12. I had it on the shelves by 8 a.m. and it was gone by 10 a.m.,” Joseph said.
A worker at Riverside Market in Durand today said they have been able to get products such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but they sell out quickly and the store could be out at any given moment.
Manufacturers have begun to respond to the shortage, but have provided few answers as to when there will be more supply.
Georgia-Pacific and Charmin, two of the largest toilet paper producers in the world, have both issued statements about the shortages.
“We manufacture our paper products in North America, primarily the United States. Our 30,000 employees continue to make our products and continue to ship inventory out as quickly as possible. We are limiting access at our manufacturing operations to essential employees, contractor and vendors in order to protect operators,” Georgia-Pacific said in a statement.
The statement said the timing on when inventory would return is unclear.
“While it’s hard to give you exact timing for every city and town, we want you to know that we’re shipping product directly to our retail partners first,” the statement said.
Charmin said the company is producing and shipping toilet paper at record levels.
Charmin isn’t the only company ramping up production in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clorox, which makes things like sanitary wipes, has announced an increase in production.
“We’ve increased production of our disinfecting products to meet the needs of our consumers. We’re working around the clock to ensure people can access our products,” Clorox said in a statement.
Grocery stores remain open, but that is not the case for a lot of retail businesses. Many national chains, including Macy’s and Nordstrom, announced that they will be closed for two weeks.