Chatham’s retailers adjusting to high demand, space restrictions due to COVID-19

BY CN+R STAFF
Posted 3/17/20

Long lines and empty toiler paper shelves have become a part of regular Chatham County living in the last two weeks. Take the Piggly Wiggly in Siler City, for example. Normally, you’d figure a shipment of supplies wouldn’t warrant a Facebook post with all caps and exclamation marks. But as been demonstrated time and time again, these aren’t “normal” times.

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Chatham’s retailers adjusting to high demand, space restrictions due to COVID-19

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Posted

Long lines and empty toiler paper shelves have become a part of regular Chatham County living in the last two weeks.

Take the Piggly Wiggly in Siler City, for example. Normally, you’d figure a shipment of supplies wouldn’t warrant a Facebook post with all caps and exclamation marks. But as been demonstrated time and time again, these aren’t “normal” times.

The March 16 post stated: “ATTENTION CUSTOMERS: We have just received a truck and we wanted to let you know we now have restocked shelves!!! Including bananas, fresh chicken, ground beef, eggs, milk, potatoes, toilet paper and paper towels, etc....”

By the time that post was “liked” or “loved” more than 70 times and shared more than 200 times as of Tuesday.

Sam Wilborn, the manager of the Food Lion store off U.S. Hwy. 64 in Siler City, said many of his regular customers were calling to inquire about product availability.

“A lot of them know our truck schedules, and they’re calling to verify what we have,” he said.

Trucks from Food Lion’s distribution center in Dunn typically arrive in Siler City on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays — usually late at night. But high demand for certain items means two things: the supply from the distribution center might be depleted, and what does arrive and is stocked on his shelves “doesn’t last very long.”

What’s in demand?

“Everything in the store,” he said. “Water, canned goods, meats, paper products…”

Manufacturers are working to get products in short supply back in stock, but with high demand continuing, it’s anyone’s guess when things will “get back to normal.”

And did he have toilet paper in stock on Monday? No, Wilborn said.

Assistant managers at Siler City’s Walmart referred inquiries to the company’s corporate media office. An inquiry made Monday about supply, demand and re-stocking plans wasn’t immediately responded to.

A post on the company’s website said it promised to “work to keep our stores stocked and prices fair.”

“As one would expect, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items are in high demand as customers prepare for the possible impact of COVID-19,” the post, published on March 10, stated. “We are working to replenish those items quickly, including diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores. We have also authorized our store managers to manage their inventory, including the discretion to limit sales quantities on items that are in unusually high demand.”

Additionally, all Walmart locations will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. “until further notice” as part of “ensur(ing) associates can clean and stock products.” The Siler City Walmart had been open 24 hours a day.

Calls to area Walgreens stores on Monday revealed that grocery stores weren’t the only places scrambling to fill inventories. The pharmacies in both Pittsboro and Siler City were out of toilet paper and other paper products. The stores typically receive their shipments of paper products on Saturdays, but an associate in Siler City’s Walgreens noted that they were anticipating an emergency delivery, but were unsure of a date.

The uncertainty is something Piggly Wiggly is also dealing with. Within an hour of that Facebook post, all the available toilet paper was gone. The store receives a truck every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, according to Casey Thompson, produce manager, but those trucks have been coming in late due to demand and what will actually be on the next truck is unknown. Currently, the only products available are ones “on the floor.” The store is not offering “rain checks,” but currently has no plans to limit purchases at this time.

Outside Chatham County, shoppers posted photos of bare shelves. A photo taken at a nearby Costco store showed a dry-erase board with a list of out-of-stock items at the time, which included: soft soap, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, bleach, Kleenex and paper towels.

Reporters Casey Mann and Zachary Horner and Publisher/Editor Bill Horner III all contributed to this story.

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