As one of the essential businesses allowed to remain open under Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order, grocery stores are continuing to meet the needs of the community amidst the threat of COVID-19.
How those stores are doing that is changing slightly, as grocery chains around the country have taken steps to enhance customer safety in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Many stores – including Dillons, Wal-Mart and Aldi locations in Derby – have implemented special hours for senior citizens and the most vulnerable populations as an additional protective measure. Hours are in effect from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Aldi, 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Dillons and one hour before regular opening every Tuesday at Wal-Mart.
Grocers have even reached out to the Sedgwick County Commission to ask about taking further precautions – namely in limiting the number of individuals at a time who can enter the store to buy products.
County Manager Tom Stolz said grocers have inquired about a potential directive limiting one person per family at a time in stores (not having full families together in the store), but Commissioner Lacey Cruse asked her fellow commissioners to consider families that don’t have that option.
On top of that, Commissioner Jim Howell asked if this was not an issue grocery stores could handle at their own discretion.
“They’re acting like they don’t have the authority, but as a private property do they not have the authority?” Howell asked. “I just hate for us to issue a mandate to all stores when some stores may be having an issue and some stores may not.”
Howell also questioned if this would apply to hardware stores as well, with Stolz noting those businesses had not been a part of the conversation, as the issue had mainly been brought up in regards to grocers.
No official action was taken, but Stolz was directed to give feedback to grocers in support of efforts to encourage minimal attendance at any retail business that re-mains open during the state stay-at-home order.
“It’s a best practice and I think anybody ought to hear that and say we’d like to adopt, if you will, the idea and encourage people to minimize the number of people coming into the store. That seems reasonable,” Howell said.
On top of special hours and efforts to limit the number of customers in stores, many grocery chains are stepping up sanitary measures in the face of the current pandemic.
At Aldi, the chain is encouraging use of personal protective equipment (PPE), with stores supplying disposable gloves and masks per request. Stores have also started placing social distancing signage and floor decals re-enforcing that 6-foot barrier and temporary checklane barriers were rolled out as of April 2. Aldi is also increasing the frequency of cart cleaning and suspending the practice of cart-to-cart transfers at checkout.
Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has implemented many of those same policies and changed its normal hours, now remaining open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each day. This change was made in an effort to allow associates time to restock shelves and clean/sanitize stores as guided by the CDC, according to Corporate Communications Senior Manager Charles Crowson.
On top of that, as of April 3, Wal-Mart is pushing to regulate store entry – limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at once. Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store’s capacity.
Dillons, through parent company Kroger, has taken similar safety measures and is investing in its supply chain to expand capacity where possible. These investments are intended to support associates, customers and communities through the pandemic.
"Kroger's most urgent priority is to provide a safe environment for asso-ciates and customers, with open stores, comprehensive digital solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain, so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials," said Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and CEO, in a release.
Wal-Mart, Dillons and Aldi have all also made recent efforts to support their em-ployees and continue to be adding positions in the midst of rising unemployment numbers due to COVID-19 – efforts made to best serve community members in need.
“Our customers are relying on us to be there for them, providing those items they need,” Crowson said. “We remain committed to serving them and our communities every step of the way.”