COVID-19 has shuttered businesses and diminished profits across Nebraska, but in some of the state’s local grocery stores, business has been booming.
“Profits are up, but you’re still having to replace these products that you’re selling,” said Clint Didier, manager of Didier’s Grocery in Schuyler. “It’s basically like a holiday.”
At Plum Creek Marketplace in Lexington, manager Barry Carpenter said that the crisis has increased business.
In Syracuse, Terry Scheinost, co-owner of Terry’s Family Foods, also said he has seen a jump in business because of the coronavirus.
“The [customers] that seemed not to be shopping local have really stayed local and the ones that were my local full-time customers have stayed here too, so it’s actually helped,” Scheinost said.
And in Kimball, Kimball Main Street Market Manager Troy Harper said that the coronavirus has helped his business.
“We’ve had a lot more people shop local since they can’t leave town now,” he said. “I hope they will appreciate that more and keep shopping with us instead of going out of town to shop.”
However, the increase in demand has not always resulted in an increase in supply.
Scheinost said his Syracuse store has “a lot of outs.” Food distributors have put limits on the products his store can order, and he said he is having trouble stocking several items including flour, yeast, canned and frozen vegetables, soups and pork.
“Some [customers] get upset at you, but it’s like ‘Hey, you ain’t gonna get it anywhere,’” Scheinost said. “It’s been that way all around.”
Four hundred miles west of Syracuse, Harper said his Kimball store has been pretty fortunate in their food supply.
“In the beginning, we were getting out on bread and some produce, but right now, we’ve been getting almost everything we order,” he said.
However, his store still has shortages of toilet paper, disinfectant, wipes, canned items and some packaged products.
Even the products that are available have been subject to price spikes.
At Kimball Main Street Market, the price of eggs has risen. At Terry’s Family Foods, beef prices have shot up. And in Lexington, Carpenter predicts the price of pork to continue to rise at his store.
Along with product shortages and price hikes, these stores have also had to change the way they do business.
In Schuyler, Didier said his store is working on getting an online ordering system. Currently, his customers can call in orders for curbside.
Terry’s Family Foods has also seen more customers opt for curbside delivery.
“We’ve made home deliveries for 32 years here, so it wasn’t anything new,” Scheinost said. “We’ve just had some increase in people, the elderly, that don’t want to get out.”
In Kimball, Harper is hopeful that his delivery service will continue to help business after the crisis.
“A lot of people did not realize how much [delivery] we can actually do for people, so I think that’s going to be a pretty big part of our store now,” he said. “I think that’s always going to continue.”
Earlier this month, Kimball County, where Harper’s store is located, reported the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in Nebraska.
“In the beginning, I didn’t see anybody wearing masks and gloves, and people were coming in quite a bit to the store,” Harper said. “Almost every day we’d see the same people. Once all this started getting out, we started seeing people not getting out as much.”
Employees at Kimball Main Street market all wear masks and gloves to make customers feel more comfortable, he said.
In Lexington, home to a major coronavirus outbreak at the Tyson Foods plant, Plum Creek Marketplace has made several safety changes.
Carpenter said his store has plexiglass on every check stand and one-way aisles throughout this whole store in addition to masks and thorough sanitizing.
“We’ve done over and above, I think, what a lot of people are doing,” he said.
Didier has added sneeze guards to his Schuyler store and adjusted his hours to allow for cleaning at night. Masks are not mandatory, but encouraged and made available for employees.
At Terry’s Family Foods in Syracuse, Scheinost said 90% of his employees wear masks and he sanitizes everything a couple of times a day, although the 6-foot social distancing has been hard because of the store’s narrow aisles.
Scheinost also said he was thankful for the community’s support, including people who have brought pizza and donuts to the store. Three ladies even made masks for the store employees to wear.
Carpenter said he was thankful for his Plum Creek Market employees and customers throughout the crisis.
“My employees have gone over and above what’s expected of them as far as the amount of time they are putting in and the effort they are putting in,” he said. “Our customers have been more than understanding with what we’re asking them to do.”
Harper has also taken his role as a front line worker in this crisis in stride.
“We love people, and we love being a service to them,” he said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be here so it’s definitely an honor to continue to serve in any way we can.”