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News >  Business

Supply chains in Spokane improving, but items still selling out

UPDATED: Wed., March 25, 2020

The Safeway store on Francis Avenue at Monroe Street was busy with shoppers Wednesday, March. 25, 2020. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Safeway store on Francis Avenue at Monroe Street was busy with shoppers Wednesday, March. 25, 2020. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The paper products aisles at several Spokane grocery stores on Wednesday afternoon continued to be deserted islands of shelves with placards reminding shoppers to take just one package each.

While supply chains for area stores are improving, managers believe it could take suppliers weeks to catch up to the panic-buying onslaught that emptied most supplies of paper products, and flour, sugar, eggs, pasta, canned goods and sanitizing wipes.

Jim Dailey, manager of the Rosauers at 1724 W. Francis Ave., said he’s been in the grocery business since 1974 and he’s never seen anything like the run caused by fear of the coronavirus outbreak that has sent shoppers racing for area stores.

“Everybody went crazy that first week and bought whatever they could get their hands on,” Dailey said. “People are realizing the end of the world isn’t near. It’s definitely an adventure.”

Jeff Philipps, president and CEO of Rosauers, said the company’s stores on Wednesday began installing plexiglass walls at the checkout stands, customer service counters and pharmacy counters to protect both shoppers and employees during the pandemic.

“Everybody is scrambling to get the supply chain back in shape,” he said. “We are going all the way to manufacturers to fix it.”

Bill Kelly, assistant manager of Costco at 12020 N. Newport Highway, said his store’s supplies have improved since the crush it received Tuesday, the day after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all nonessential employees in the state to stay at home.

“We are gaining some ground,” Kelly said. “Some key items we are still out of. But we are mostly able to take care of our members’ needs.”

Kelly has been in the business for 31 years. He has seen panic shopping like what occurred after Spokane’s 1996 ice storm.

“Those were all short-lived events compared to this. Nothing I’ve seen even comes close,” he said. “I don’t know what direction this is going to go. I hope it’s not very long.”

Luz Suttle, of Chattaroy, was loading her car Wednesday with two cases of bottled water, bread and other items from the North Side Costco.

“It’s getting better,” Suttle said. “What I like is that everyone is keeping their distance, and they are taking their time.”

Philipps, the Rosauer’s CEO, said his store managers have been working with food distributor URM Stores and with other suppliers that have had to ramp up production to try to meet the crushing demand for certain products.

“When the trucks show up at URM, they are in and out the same day,” Philipps said. “The only thing we can do is wait for the suppliers to reproduce what everybody made a run on.”

The north locations of Rosauers and Yoke’s – both supplied by URM – had no eggs on Wednesday. Philipps explained that URM was allocating certain items so that every store would get a few of the high-volume items.

Store managers every year plan ahead for shopping patterns around Halloween, Easter and Christmas. But the panic buying of toilet paper and paper towels caught them all off guard, Philipps said.

“I don’t think anybody saw that coming,” he said. “Everybody reacts to a crisis differently.”

Mark Jones, assistant store director of the Safeway at 902 W. Francis Ave., said he believes his store was able to lessen the impact on supplies from recent panic shopping by quickly moving to limit items purchased.

“That helped us stay in stock of some of those items,” he said. “We saw what was going on. We are doing our best to take care of the customers.”

All of the stores have hired more employees and given overtime to current workers to meet the rush. Jones said his company has begun the process of hiring hundreds of new employees to meet the demand.

“This is such a unique situation. It wasn’t changing month to month or week to week, we had to react to things hour to hour,” he said. “It’s not so much crazy as unexpected.”

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