WEST GARDINER — Walt Longfellow is rationing ground beef.

Standing at the end of the meat counter Saturday at Fuller’s Market, Longfellow said he never thought he’d see a time when he’d have to limit sale of an item that’s part of many families’ regular meal rotation.

Walt Longfellow, owner of Fuller’s Market in West Gardiner said he’s had to limit the sale of ground beef to five pounds per customer to make sure his regular customers can get what they need. Some people have requested up to 50 pounds. “I have another delivery truck coming next week,” he said.

“I always want to of course sell as much as I can, but I want to have enough for the people who aren’t hoarding it or stocking up — our regular customers,” Longfellow said.

People have been coming in, asking for 30 pounds or 40 pounds of ground beef, he said. Because Fuller’s is a meat market, large meat orders are not unusual but the number of the orders is. Even so, he’s limiting sales to 5 pounds.

Like grocery store owners and managers across Maine, Longfellow is trying to keep up with customer demand for food and household items now that Maine’s first presumptive positive tests for coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, were announced  last week.

As of Saturday, three cases were confirmed and three more were presumptive positive, according to the Maine Centers for Disease Control.

At about the same time, the World Health Organization ruled the coronavirus is now a pandemic, which is defined as an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. More than 118,000 people in 114 countries have been infected by the flu-like disease and nearly 4,300 have died since it was first detected in China in January.

To slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, public health officials in Maine have recommended limiting exposure to other people by avoiding large public gatherings.

Events and activities across Maine have been postponed or canceled. Colleges and universities are closing campuses and sending students home to complete their semesters online.  School districts are canceling after-school activities and sports and in some cases are closing for a limited time. Many businesses are encouraging employees to work from home when possible and the Maine State Legislature will adjourn after Tuesday.

And people are stocking up to stay home. Reports from across the area show that people are buying up toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

That’s the case in Randolph, where the shelves at Goggin’s IGA are bare of toilet paper and the paper towels are picked over.

A shopper walks by the empty shelves at Goggin’s IGA in Randolph, where toilet paper was sold out Saturday morning. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

On Saturday morning, a steady stream of customers flowed into the parking lot just off Route 27. Some went in to grab a few things and a gallon of bleach, others filled their carts with weekly groceries.

An employee at Goggin’s IGA said the demand on toilet paper is the result of panic buying prompted by reports of the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re preparing, like other stores are, to get ahead of demand,” the employee said. “Every place is trying to get ahead of it but they just don’t know how to predict it.”

Marcella St Thomas, who drove to Randolph from West Gardiner to shop Saturday, said while she doesn’t need toilet paper, she keeps an eye out for it, because she hasn’t seen any at any store she’s shopped at recently, and when she has, the price for a single roll has been $2.

Marcella St Thomas of West Gardiner said she keeps an eye out for toilet paper when she’s out shopping, because she hasn’t seen any at a number of stores. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

St Thomas said she was not stocking up on anything in particular on Saturday and has what she needs at home for now.

“I don’t need any more,” she said. “My husband says, ‘Will you stop shopping at the grocery store?'”

At Buddies Meat and Groceries in Oakland, Saturday’s customer count was rivaling that of a busy summer day.

“Usually, we’re slower at this time of year,” Heidi Huard, night manager said. “This is like when all the tourists are here.”

Like other stores across the region, Buddies was also sold out of toilet paper. Customers were grabbing it as fast as it was being stocked on the shelves, Huard said.

“It’s supply chain disruption,” she said. “My bosses do the ordering, and they were told ahead of time to expect this.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Buddies was sold out of chicken and nearly sold out of ground beef.

“We get deliveries twice a week,” she said. “Stuff is still coming in.”

While both Buddies and Goggin’s are independent grocers, large supermarket chains are also affected by the spike in demand for some products.

A sign at Fuller’s Market in West Gardiner warns shoppers they will be limited to two packages per person. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

A call to the Hannaford  corporate office was not immediately returned Saturday, but the company posted an advisory on its webpage about Hannaford To Go orders. Even as people may be turning to the grocery pick up service to avoid crowds, store officials are warning that purchase limits of two per customer for high demand items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and household cleaners may be imposed, or substitutions may be offered.

At Fuller’s, Longfellow said he recalls other emergencies, like Y2K, and blizzards, and even the 2017 wind storm, which knocked power out to about half the state, and the response was nothing like he’s seen now to this emerging virus.

“The way not to ruin the supply chain is just to order what you need and just a little more, obviously,” he said, noting his latest shipment of toilet paper sold out in an hour. “Nobody is prepared to catch up with a year’s worth of product in a month.”

His advice for customers is not to stock up for a month, just to buy what they need and know that a delivery truck is coming.

“Don’t over oversupply, and watch out for neighbors. See how they’re doing,” he said. “Check in with them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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