Local grocers overwhelmed by pandemic

DeMartini Orchard
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
DeMartini Orchard employees unload groceries.

Across the nation, empty shelves have become the norm as grocery stores struggle to keep up with the unprecedented demand for items such as cleaning supplies, frozen vegetables and canned goods amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Altos is no exception, as markets in town regularly sell out of such staples. At DeMartini Orchard, the rush began March 17 – the day after the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order took effect. Owner Craig Kozy said his store saw four times the amount of business as usual as people stocked up on supplies and “totally cleaned out” DeMartini’s.

Now it’s become business as usual at the San Antonio Road market.

“It bothers me to see all the holes all over,” Kozy said of the empty shelves.

Draeger’s Market declined the Town Crier’s interview request, but marketing director Tori Draeger recently told online magazine Slate that the First Street store was “seriously overwhelmed with the volume of people coming in at the beginning.

“We’re ordering more groceries now than we did for Christmas,” she said.

Despite worries about dwindling supply chains, representatives for several grocery stores have assured customers that it isn’t an issue. While suppliers have had difficulty in shipping items quickly enough to meet the increased demand, there have been no reports of a weakening in the food supply chain.

Both Kozy and Draeger noted that since the initial bump in customers, the overall number of daily shoppers has decreased as customers have started shopping for the entire week and not just for that evening’s meal. Kozy said that’s likely a result of pandemic panic, with people not wanting to leave their homes as frequently for fear of contracting the virus.

Additionally, stores in the area have introduced new policies to keep customers and employees safe. They include senior hours in the morning, a ban on bringing one’s own bag, increased sanitizing of surfaces and curbside pickup of groceries.

While Draeger acknowledged there have been a few bumps in the road, she noted that “people have been amazing” in adapting to the changes, particularly in Los Altos.

Although demand has begun to level out as people frequent grocery stores fewer times a week and stock up more, Kozy said he will be “happy when things get back to normal.”

“We’re all just surprised at how everything can change in a matter of a day,” he said.

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