Floyd County was quieter than normal last week, as local businesses and restaurants made difficult decisions to either shut down completely or radically alter their modes of operation. But at Slaughter’s Supermarket right outside town, business was booming as employees worked diligently to restock shelves, check out customers and answer the constantly-ringing phone.
In a time of economic uncertainty and ubiquitous lay-offs at other businesses, Slaughter’s was looking to hire. Store Manager Jennifer Boothe posted on Facebook last Wednesday that the store would expand its staff, at least temporarily, to keep up with demand. Response to the post was so overwhelming, she had to delete it soon afterward. Boothe said she was contacted by “former employees who are home from college or have been laid off (from other jobs),” including teachers and employees from retail stores and malls.
Stress and panic surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is causing Floyd locals to stock up on groceries, to the extent that Slaughter’s can’t keep many essentials on its shelves and Boothe is somewhat worried about the supply chain. “Our trucks are running behind. We order stuff and have no idea if we’ll get it,” Boothe said.
Asked to estimate how busy the store has been relative to a normal week, Boothe said “Three times as busy? Ten times? We’ve seen faces we haven’t seen in years.”
As of last Thursday, the store was short on sanitizing wipes, alcohol, peroxide, certain over-the-counter medications, potatoes, dried beans and bread, Boothe said. Slaughter’s recently had to limit purchase of some of these items due to shortfalls.
While purchasing bulk quantities of nonperishables is fairly common practice during emergencies, Boothe noted that other, perishable goods are flying off the shelves, too, including milk. “It only lasts so long. I guess they’re freezing it,” Boothe said.
Boothe said the supermarket’s deli has seen more customers than normal, as well. “Our meat department can’t keep up with demand. People are buying unreal amounts,” Boothe recounted. While she knows that people are shopping out of concern for their families, she said she worries about the less fortunate. “That’s the tough part—people are panicking and want to provide for their families, but there are people who can’t afford to stockpile,” Boothe said. “I just hope when this is all over, they give back,” and donate their extra supplies to food banks and shelters, she said.
Amid the craziness at the store, Boothe said management has made adjustments to try to keep staff safe and healthy. Hiring new employees to meet need, she said, felt somewhat like “drafting people into war.”
“I’m trying to protect what we have here,” Boothe said of the supermarket, which has a 45-year history in Floyd and is family-owned. She said she’s watched many of the store’s employees grow up. Boothe said eight-hour shifts are bordering on unmanageable because of the pace of work. “I’m exhausted. I’m trying to give people time to rest, so they can fight the virus if they get it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we’re the ones who have to stay open and on the front lines,” she explained. The store does have a support network, however. For years, long before the threat of coronavirus arrived in Floyd, the supermarket has provided curbside delivery to senior citizens who either can’t or would prefer not to leave the car and shop themselves.
The store continues to offer this service, and Boothe said locals have volunteered to help support it, along with grocery delivery to isolated seniors or those who can’t travel. Thursday afternoon, Boothe reported that “I’ve had two friends in the last hour volunteer for delivery, both teachers.”
She also cited the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office’s “Rise and Shine” program as an important support during this time. The program has been in place since Sheriff Brian Craig was first elected, and involves local law enforcement agents checking in on senior citizens each morning.
“If there’s seniors in our community who don’t have anyone to check on them daily—whether their spouse has passed, kids have moved away, or whatever—I wanted us to become that person who checks on them,” Craig explained. “We call everyone, every morning between 9-10 a.m. to make sure they’re okay,” he said.
But recently, Craig has also been working to make sure the 10 senior citizens served by the program have access to other essentials. “Of course, there’s more things that go with it,” Craig said. “What I’ve been trying to do is make sure that if those folks who are on our program needed some supplies or pharmaceuticals, there would be no problem with Slaughter’s or The Pharm House bringing stuff out o them.”
Craig then added, “That’s already something they’re doing, which I didn’t realize.”
Boothe said the Garden Center at Slaughter’s is still open, and she’s seen an increased interest in gardening and self-sufficiency since the pandemic began. “People who’ve never planted gardens will probably plant them next year.”