Supply Issue

Empty shelves abound at St. Helens Market Fresh, as well as other stores through the county and the nation due to high public demand.

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Grocery stores and other businesses in Columbia County that supply household items continue to struggle to keep up with public demand during the coronavirus health crisis.

Commonly missing items from the store shelves are hand sanitizer, toilet paper, bleach and sanitizing wipes, just to name a few.

The Chronicle checked in with a sampling of local stores in Columbia County to see how they are faring with stocking up on supplies.

One major grocery store, St. Helens Market Fresh, has been struggling to keep different items stocked. Those include toilet paper, bleach and hand sanitizer, according to Josh Poling the store director.

St. Helens Market Fresh gets twice-weekly shipments, once on Monday and once on Thursday from its Spokane-based supplier, URM.

“Every delivery we get, we’re probably only getting six to 10 cases in,” Poling said. “They’re basically allocating us whatever they can get and dividing it by all the stores.”

Along with supplies, St. Helens Market Fresh has upgraded some if its procedures, like no longer using reusable bags and waiving the bag fee for customers, Poling said. The store is also offering customers the ability to do curbside pickup, where they can call the store before 2 p.m. and pick up their groceries by 4 p.m. Poling said that service has been going strong.

Additionally, the store has shut down the hot side of their deli, no longer serving food there.

With the changes, Market Fresh has not had to cut down on employees’ hours or lay off any employees, Poling said. Rather, those employees have gained hours stocking shelves inside the grocery store, or doing any other tasks as needed, according to Poling.

Long lines in front of grocery stores are a common sight during COVID-19, as stores work to prevent overcrowding and enforce the recommended social distancing by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but not so with Market Fresh. Poling said the store has not established a quota system for allowing customers into the store.

“We’re playing that by ear,” he said. “We haven’t gotten to the point where it’s overly crowded.”

The biggest change, Poling said, is that customers are buying larger quantities of products.

The same is true at a smaller store, Molly’s Market in downtown St. Helens.

Store owner, Molly Matchik said her store carries small quantities of household items like toilet paper, bleach and disinfectant wipes, all of which she is currently out of. There is no set time when she is expected to be restocked for those items, Matchik said.

Matchik also laid off her two employees as an extra precaution against novel coronavirus, meaning that running the store falls solely on her.

For her store, Matchik also relies on a lot of products from Trader Joe’s, which she said have been selling like crazy. Those products include a lot of frozen meals, cereals, nuts, dried fruit and other items.

In north Columbia County, Hi-School Pharmacy in Clatskanie has also been experiencing issues keeping items stocked.

Store manager Katie Long has said it’s been getting worse as the days progress.

“It started with hand sanitizer, then just in the last few days we’ve been having trouble getting thermometers,” Long said.

To keep up with the increasing demand, the corporate office is working double time to procure the items, according to Long.

“But we’re in line just like everybody else,” Long said.

The company has also been running out of products to make hand sanitizer, like aloe and rubbing alcohol, according to Long. Those products have also been getting increasingly harder to obtain, Long said.

Long has also been getting more customers from out of town looking for household supplies. She said she recently had a mother and daughter come in from Astoria to buy toilet paper because no other market had any available.

She also recently had a vendor come to her store from Seattle to buy bleach.

Long received a shipment of toilet paper on Monday, and ran out yesterday, but Long said the store will get another shipment today, although she doesn’t know how much it will be. Disinfectant wipes, however, are nowhere to be found, according to Long.

To minimize the depletion of products, Long is limiting the products people can buy, like one package of toilet paper per household.

“My main goal is to try to take care of as many people as possible and prevent one person from hoarding. That’s what we’re doing,” Long said.

Follow developments here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.


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