Elderly urged to shop early
Empty shelves, midnight stocking crew
By Angie Landsverk
Neumann’s Piggly Wiggly is adjusting what time it opens and encouraging the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems to shop the first hour the store is open.
The changes are related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning Saturday, March 21, the grocery store is opening at 6:30 a.m. daily instead of 6 a.m.
The store’s managers agreed to the change on Thursday, March 19, said Scott Neumann.
He owns the store with his wife Lorrie.
A weekly meeting with department managers takes place each Thursday morning.
Much of the March 19 meeting centered on the safety of the employees and customers.
The store is now opening at 6:30 a.m., so each department has an additional 30 minutes to clean and wipe everything down before the store opens.
“This is an added cleaning,” Lorrie said.
It is on top of all the cleaning already done in the grocery store and an added precaution for the employees and customers, she said.
In addition, 6:30-7:30 a.m. is being designated as the time for the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems to shop at the store, Scott said.
This is every day until further notice, he said.
When March began, the store switched to its summer hours of opening at 6 a.m., compared to its 7 a.m. opening during the winter months.
Scott said they are also limiting customers to three of many products, and just one package of toilet tissue.
For the past week, the store has been busier than usual on a daily basis.
Thursday, March 12 was the first day they started seeing more customers and a significant increase in sales, he said.
“It started with hand sanitizers first,” he said as to what many customers purchased those first days.
That was followed by toilet tissue and disinfecting wipes and then potatoes, ground meats, milk and eggs.
When asked for insight why so people were buying potatoes, Scott called his assistant produce manager, who told him it is because potatoes last a long time.
Now people are buying more hand soap and bottles of spray cleaners, he said.
People continue to look for toilet tissue, and much of the shelves were again empty on Thursday, March 19.
Scott said it was Wednesday, March 11 that they had a clue about what they would soon see here.
Their daughter Brenna called them from Oshkosh that day, where she is a nursing student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
She told her parents toilet tissue could not be found anywhere in Oshkosh and asked if they had some.
Scott instructed his store manager to “order heavy” for the product.
He said, “We ended up getting two pallets. They arrived Friday (March 13). By the time I came back in Saturday morning, they were gone.”
The store received a total of 192 packages of one particular brand of toilet tissue. There were 12 rolls of toilet tissue in each of those packages.
Within seven hours, all 192 packages were gone, Scott said.
Neumann’s Piggly Wiggly gets its deliveries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Scott said their typical delivery window on each of those days for grocery items, produce and frozen food is 2-4 p.m.
Deliveries are now running 8 to 10 hours later, he said.
The store’s stock crew is typically scheduled to work from 6 p.m. to midnight.
They now have the crew coming in at midnight instead.
Piggly Wiggly Midwest is the store’s supplier for those items, and he said they now allocating how much the stores are receiving.
He likes the idea, because it means all the stores get allocations instead of some getting more and others nothing.
Scott was a high school student when he started working at the grocery in 1987.
He eventually became the store’s manager.
Shortly after buying it in 2013, Lorrie decided to join him.
She also worked there when she was in high school.
It is how the couple met.
Both have seen their share of customers stocking up on groceries prior to predicted snowstorms.
But they have never seen anything like this.
They had to move the sanitizing wipes from where they were by the shopping carts to the service counter, because people were taking them.
“People were stealing them so we had no choice,” Scott said.
Both of them also commented on the number of customers they see returning to the store on a daily basis.
This includes the elderly, who are being encouraged to stay home to limit possible exposure to COVID-19.
Prior to this, the Neumanns had problems finding new employees.
Now people are contacting them, expressing an interest in working part time until everything passes, Lorrie said.
Others are asking if they can help without pay.
Scott said they cannot have people volunteering. That would be a liability.
He and Lorrie appreciate those gestures and especially appreciate their staff during this time.
“We’ve always given a lot of credit to our employees. They’ve been awesome,” Scott said. “They haven’t been calling in. They haven’t been complaining.”
He noted customers are also becoming more patient.
“I kind of get up every day thinking this day will be calmer, and then it’s not,” Scott said.