Business isn’t slowing down at Black Diamond's only grocery store a week after the shopping frenzy began in the Foothills.
Country Food Mart AG Foods owner Mark Muller said staff are working double time to ensure shelves are stocked and that tills, countertops, keypads and door handles are sanitized frequently as they continue to face an influx of customers that began when cases of COVID-19 first appeared in Alberta.
It was Thursday last week that staff saw the first spike in business, Muller said.
“There was lot of conversations about what was going on with this coronavirus,” he said. “Then Friday was over the top. It was just crazy and has been busy ever since.”
By Monday, many of the small grocery store’s shelves were empty and the delivery truck that was scheduled for 9 a.m. didn’t arrive until 6 p.m., Muller said.
“The warehouse was caught off guard so there was lots of shortages and trucking was backed up because it wasn’t just our store, all stores were being hit,” he said. “By Monday we were out of a lot of things.”
Muller had placed an order again for Wednesday as shelves quickly emptied, but the delivery truck, once again, didn’t arrive until early evening.
“The warehouse is backed up all the way to the manufacturer,” he said. “No one was prepared for this spike in demand. The orders are so big that trucking is falling behind. That’s why ours was so late.”
Muller expects the same with Friday's shipment and was told the Calgary warehouse already has a shortage in beef products.
“The system is only designed to sustain a certain level,” he said Thursday. “Yesterday and today was a little bit slower, but still above normal.”
In addition to dealing with a higher volume of customers, Muller said the store began offering delivery services on Tuesday.
“Previously, we delivered to seniors that were shut in but now we’re advertising it for people who were away and just returned home or who are self-isolating,” he said. “We’re a small store so we know the seniors and deliver to them every week, but because of the virus we have to come up with a way where the customer is safe and so is the person doing the deliveries.”
Muller said Country Food Mart typically delivers to about five seniors a week. On Wednesday, a dozen deliveries were made.
“We take a credit-card payment over the phone and I leave the groceries on their front step,” he said.
Despite the chaos, the small-town store has been receiving kudos on Facebook for a job well done.
“To the owners, awesome job of keeping things in stock and making sure everyone is covered in time,” wrote Jeff Hynes. “Super job as well with what looked like pre-orders you were selected for people to limit their time in store or to do home deliveries! Absolutely amazing! Above and beyond… very impressed.”
Another post credited staff for keeping a positive attitude during such a difficult time.
Muller said he’s not surprised.
“There’s two ways you can handle this: You can be grumpy or go at it with a smile,” he said. “Every one of my staff goes above and beyond the call of duty, putting in extra hours when called to deal with these orders. Everyone has been great.”
Muller said this includes stocking shelves until 11 p.m. with every shipment that arrived this week.
While business has increased by about 40 per cent, Muller expects to see a drop in sales once the panic is over.
“There’s got to come a point when people’s pantries are full,” he said. “It’s a joke around here that people won’t need to buy toilet paper for a year.”
In the meantime, staff are working double-time to meet the demand and to keep the store sanitized, said Muller.
“The tills and the counter tops and key pads get wiped down after every order with a bleach and water solution,” he said. “Somebody goes around and cleans all the door knobs and handles on the freezers - we’re doing that constantly. We’re trying to protect people and our staff and are practising social distancing.
“We joke around that there’s no more hugging customers for the next while.”
Country Food Mart isn’t the only local business delivering essentials. Black Diamond Pharmasave and Sandul’s Pharmacy are making deliveries, as well as Chinook Winz, which is delivering pet food.
Visit http://town.blackdiamond.ab.ca/485/COVID-19-Information for more details.
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