Cleaning products, toilet paper flying off store shelves in wake of pandemic

Assistant Store Director Jim Lust stocks disinfection wipes at the Redners in north Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — Area merchants struggled to keep sanitizing agents on the shelves Thursday.

At the same time, shoppers scrambled to grab whatever was left.

Coronavirus concerns stressed out customers and businesses alike as the worldwide pandemic continued.

By just before 9 a.m., Annie Valladares had been to four stores before finding one bottle of generic Lysol at the Dollar General in Townsend. She bought it for her daughter, a teacher aiming to wipe down every surface possible at her school.

Also, Ms. Valladares hoisted three 32-packs of bottled water “just in case it’s needed, because at this point nobody knows what comes next.”

In Townsend, Dollar General General Manager Gerald Dorsey stands behind a large stack of bottled water on Thursday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

As supply trucks arrived at the store on U.S. 13, General Manager Gerald Dorsey was unsure what tomorrow would bring.

“I’m just hoping that the company can continue to bring what we need,” he said. “Hand sanitizer, peroxide, alcohol, Lysol, floor cleaning chemicals, wipes don’t stay on shelves long once we stock them.”

Relative to past hurricanes, Ebola virus and H1NI influenza outbreaks, Mr. Dorsey said “I’ve never experienced one quite like this (coronavirus).”

Bob Thomas, district manager for the Roses store in Smyrna, said “the problem is that manufacturing (of products) is so far behind that it’s hard to catch up to the demand.”

Having enough employees on duty has been challenging, Mr. Thomas said, as many call in sick or just take a day off.

“The only thing that really compares to this is a bad snowstorm when people panic and run out and buy whatever they can get their hands on,” he said.

Standing in the middle of an aisle at Roses, Smyrna’s Cyetta King said she disinfected her home two days ago and planned to clean it again soon.

“People everywhere are talking about it, on the street, at work, everywhere,” she said. “It’s just something you’ve got to deal with, hopefully it will blow over soon.”

Outside the Acme in Smyrna, Cheri Stallard said she bought a can of soup for her ailing grandson, who was home with an upset stomach.

“He’s not running a fever, there’s no cough or other symptoms they say to look out for, so he should be fine,” she said.

Elderly concerns

Later in the day, Ms. Stallard planned to visit an elderly friend to make sure she’s feeling OK.

“I’m very concerned about the elderly with underlying issues who may not even realize they have the virus,” she said. “I have a heart condition and say a prayer every night that I’ll wake up in the morning.”

A self-described “clean freak” Ms. Stallard said she’d regularly power cleaned her home “right down to the light switches” well before the ongoing crisis emerged.

Shopping at Redner’s in the Greentree Shopping Center, Dover resident George McDuffie didn’t seem overly worried.

“I’m just washing my hands a bit more and staying out of crowds,” he said. “There’s no reason to panic. The Swine Flu years ago was 10 times worse.

“It’s bad now, but a little common sense will take care of that.”

Exiting Redner’s and pushing a cart toward the parking lot, Debbie Reese of Odessa said she kept a normal shopping list.

“I’ve heard about (coronavirus) of course but don’t understand why people buy so much extra toilet paper,” she said. “I just don’t get it.”

Dollar Tree Assistant Store Manager Desiera Pitts said the last packets of antibacterial wipes had just been sold, and she hoped the company could send more. Some items that arrived on trucks were sold out within 30 minutes.

“This is definitely the quickest and most aggressive our customers have ever been when it comes to buying,” she said. “I’ve taken calls asking we place something on hold so they can come in and pick it up, but we can’t do it.

“Online ordering was shut down so we could concentrate on getting what supplies were available into the store.”

Dover’s Mary Briddon described her Walmart experience as “a lot of people grabbing as much cleaning supplies, towels and toilet paper as they could.

“I’ve actually had a pit in my stomach ever since this got really serious and the worst part is there’s no knowing how bad it will get or when it will finally end.”

At Redner’s, Milford resident Kristin Gerken stocked up on baby formula and items that would stay good in the pantry.

“I’m not going to go crazy and panic but want to be somewhat prepared as well. I’ve always been concerned about catching the flu but this seems a bit more drastic.

“The word ‘pandemic’ worries me, especially for the fact that they just declared the first case in Delaware (Wednesday).”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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