Wearing an N95 respirator mask, Santa Barbara resident Steve Scheinkman was the first person in line at Gelson’s Market in Santa Barbara early Wednesday morning.
He arrived at the store’s entrance around 6:30 a.m. before it opened. Twenty minutes later, a long line snaked around the shopping center.
“I get up early anyway, so I might as well wait in line,” the 66-year-old said. “I just retired last month, and I didn’t think this is how I would start my retirement. Usually, I’m out running.”
The novel coronavirus has caused several supermarkets to modify store hours, and many establishments are stripped of food, water and household products.
Shelves are bare or half-empty as coronavirus concerns grow, and officials advised people not to stockpile.
To protect vulnerable community members, Gelson’s Market announced a special shopping hour from 7 to 8 a.m. for those age 65 or older.
“Please have your ID out and ready,” a grocery employee told the morning crowd.
Wednesday was the first day Gelson’s implemented its exclusive shopping window, and the store opened to the rest of the public at 8 a.m.
Waiting on the asphalt parking lot and sidewalk, as the sun rose, senior shoppers stood patiently. Many had their hands in their front coat pockets amid frigid air at sunrise.
Neighbors said their hellos outside of the market.
Some patrons were equipped with protective gloves, face masks and ready-to-use disinfecting wipes.
The shopping hours for senior citizens attracted a steady stream of customers, especially those in search of toilet paper, paper towels and shelf-stable foods.
Lynn W., a 78-year-old Santa Barbara resident who did not want to give her last name, shopped for “staples, canned goods, anything frozen, and if they had anything paper, but I doubt if they do.
“I’m looking for food mainly because I live by myself and my refrigerator is only so big,” Lynn continued. “I’m going to have to keep my food supplies coming somehow.”
Lynn said she went grocery shopping last week, and Wednesday morning is her first time in public in “five or six days.” She got in line outside the grocery store around 7:15 a.m.
“I guess I’ll take all the opportunities I can get just to keep up the supplies,” she said.
Lynn is considering home-delivery services.
“I’m going to probably try to use delivery services if this goes on,” she said. “I’m going to need to get my prescriptions at the pharmacy.”
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States continue to climb. The second confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Santa Barbara County was announced Tuesday morning, and both residents live in the North County.
A third was reported Wednesday afternoon, but no details were provided.
When asked if she was fearful of the coronavirus pandemic, Lynn responded, “Yeah…It’s sort of disheartening.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom last week asked Californians age 65 or older and residents with chronic health conditions to isolate themselves at home.
While isolating inside her residence, Lynn spent her time reading books, watching television, organizing, going through files, and “things I’ve needed to do forever, and haven’t bothered to do.
“E-books are going to save me, I think,” she continued.
Social distancing practices were implemented when Noozhawk spoke to shoppers.
Local stores are located at 1482 S. Broadway and 1875 N. Broadway in Santa Maria.
Other supermarket chains reportedly were ready to follow suit with the early seniors-only hours.