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Retail outlets provide vital household supplies and must remain open amid virus concerns, with additional challenges of keeping supplies on the shelf and the stores clean

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Wheeler Dealer Liquidators, which has stores in Woodburn, Salem and Albany, has its worker attending to heightened cleaning tasks in high traffic areas amid concerns about the coronavirus.Woodburn Mega Foods Manager Ken Klein has been thinking outside the box this past couple of weeks, joining several others in charge of vital retail outlets that continue to serve the public amid a national health emergency.

"We're ordering everything we are able to every day," Klein said on Friday, March 20. "The problem we are having right now is all trucks held up in California."

A day earlier, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in the state's effort to combat the spreading of a worldwide pandemic, the coronavirus/COVID-19, which in turn waylayed supplies coming up from the south.

"We were able to get 500 pounds of pinto beans in and packaged those up in smaller bags and put a limit on how much one customer could purchase," Klein said. "Our milk and egg supplies are fine. Our tortillas supply is good, and we have a full meat and full produce section."

"We're also looking at closing an hour early and opening an hour later so we can clean everything. Everybody is wearing gloves."

Another adjustment the store is considering is picking a day or two each week when they can open early for a couple of hours to serve just senior citizens — the population that is most vulnerable to the virus.

That is a practice that many Safeway stores implemented, including Woodburn's.

"To help ensure that the most at-risk members of our community who must leave home to obtain groceries are taken care of, we are reserving 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for them," said Nicky Nielsen, Safeway's marketing promotional coordinator. "During those times, we are asking customers to respect these special hours for those at risk in their communities. We thank our customers for their compassion, understanding, and support."

While Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a closure of bars and restaurants, limiting them to take-out and delivery only, to help stave off the virus's spread, grocery stores provide necessities that are fundamental to daily life and cannot be shuttered. Some services, like Mega Foods' bus service, had to be scaled back. Employees have been vigilant, continuously wiping down and sanitizing surfaces such as the handles on refrigeration and freezer doors.

Another problem that emerged was a run on cleaning products and toilet paper, cleaning out a lot of stores and forcing places like Woodburn's Wheeler Dealer Liquidation to limit paper towels to just two rolls per customer.

"Due to recent concerns around COVID-19, Woodburn Wheeler Dealer has seen a steady increase in customers since March 12," Wheeler Dealer spokeswoman Kristy Griffiths said. "Bath tissue, hand sanitizers and other disinfectants sold out in the first two days. Other popular items purchased in large quantities are basic groceries such as milk, eggs, and bread, along with Ramen noodles, beans and rice.

"As a discount store, shipments are variable in both the assortment of merchandise and frequency of deliveries," she continued. "However, we are working diligently with vendors and suppliers to replenish high-demand inventory. It's been a challenge at peak times to keep inventory on the shelves, but our small team has managed the demand pretty well.

"Additionally, we think it's best to be proactive and to clean and sanitize high-traffic areas throughout the store to keep our staff and customers safe," Griffiths added.

The quest for heightened cleanliness has also affected Woodburn's Walmart, which is normally open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., but is now opening an hour later than usual and closing at 8:30 p.m.

Walmart President and CEO John Furner saluted the big-box store's employees nationwide for their efforts in the face of the virus.

"It's been incredible to see Walmart associates step up to the challenge of serving America this month," Furner said in a press release. "During a very uncertain and stressful time, you have done your jobs with calm, compassion and excellence. Because of you, Americans have been able to get the items and services they need from clean, orderly stores — or delivered right to their doorsteps."

Meanwhile, Klein, who has managed Mega Foods since 1998, is keeping a close eye on inventory and the store while wondering how long the crisis will continue.

"I remember going through the Y2K (concerns), and this is way beyond that," he said.


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