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Grocery stores grow crowded during special hours for seniors

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there's been a heightened demand for food.

TAMPA, Fla. — Lots of retailers are now setting aside special hours for senior citizens who, as we know, are considered the most vulnerable to be seriously sickened by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Publix Super Markets opened an hour early for seniors.

While some of them say it was a great opportunity to get the supplies they need, others were critical of the way it was handled.

“I did get here at seven in the morning, but I still didn’t get enough toilet paper. Ha ha,” said shopper Johanna Barat.

Barat was trying to keep her sense of humor. She was one of thousands taking advantage of Publix’s new senior citizen hours.

The supermarket giant is opening most of its stores at 7 a.m. -- an hour early -- Tuesday’s and Wednesdays for those 65 and over.

“I think it’s really great and it’s a really, really nice thing that they did,” said Barat.

But the geriatric gesture clearly had issues as well.

Inside, stores were packed with shoppers. Checkout lines stretched into the aisles. The crowd, in some locations, was so thick it made social distancing impossible.

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“Standing for 20 minutes in the checkout line. Crowded. Bundled up. Not healthy,” said Pat, who was shopping at a Publix store in South Tampa.

Pat says, in her opinion, the idea may have been well-intended; but from a health standpoint, she feels like it backfired. She says inside the store she was visiting, there were also people, with kids, who clearly weren’t 65.

“When I spoke to the manager five minutes ago, he said all they can do is ask, but they can’t enforce,” Pat said. “What do you mean you can’t enforce?”

Lots of other retailers are also experimenting with the same idea, setting aside hours just for seniors.

They include:

  • Dollar General – First hour each day
  • Target – First hour on Wednesdays
  • Walmart – Tuesdays one hour early
  • Winn Dixie – 8-9 a.m. Mon-Friday
  • Whole Foods – One hour early

Some customers have reported similar crowds at those places.

At Publix locations, like one in South Tampa, they even had cops on-hand as costumers cleared the shelves.

“I felt a little more comfortable,” said customer Ann Quandt. “I wasn’t going to be pushed around.”

Some shoppers who got to the stores early enough told us they were able to get hard-to-find items like toilet paper but said they ran out quickly. Meat and sanitizing wipes were also in high demand, but they said there was no shortage of produce.

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Asked if they intend to do anything differently, given how things went on their first day opening early for seniors, a Publix spokesperson wrote:

“We designated senior shopping hour to assist our customers 65 and older with their shopping needs. We encourage our associates and customers to follow CDC guidance and as the landscape continues to evolve, we continue to look for ways to reinforce the social distancing guidance.”

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