“It was a nightmare!”
That’s how my friend — one of the hundreds of “senior citizens” who went grocery shopping on the first day of Publix’s new pandemic-prompted Senior Shopping Hour, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays — described the situation at the Ryanwood Publix.
The popular supermarket chain had very good intentions: to “serve our senior population” who are “at increased risk of complications from coronavirus,” but the plan apparently heightened rather than reduced the risk, and, Publix acted quickly, according to a corporate headquarters customer care representative, who said “a team has been dispatched to deal with the situation.”
The very polite and obviously concerned rep, Nick, told me, “We are aware. You’re not the first. To call. Multiple individuals have called.”
I rolled in to the very crowded Publix parking lot at around 6:40 a.m. and the line was already quite long. Except for a few people with grocery carts, there was absolutely no “social distancing.” Those at the front said they’d been in line since 6 a.m. Several wore masks and gloves. Some were obviously infirm. Soon, the line had stretched all the way down the sidewalk south toward State Road 60, then curved back, all the way past Publix heading north.
It reminded me of the snakelike Disney World lines, minus the fun and the little kids. It felt more like a queue for a popular movie. A lot of conversation. One man commented in a lighthearted way that it reminded him of Woodstock.
One of the three deputies on site, wiping his hands with an antibacterial sheet, remarked that, “Publix wanted to do something good, but this is just the opposite.”
My friend and her husband (who wished to remain anonymous) had decided to stay. “We had been out of a few things for days and had waited for Elder Hour. It was a big mistake, but we stayed.”
Later, she described the experience: “We broke all the rules about social distancing, from standing in line to shopping on top of each other.
“I spoke to the cashier and she said that ‘today is meat day, we knew it would be like this. Tomorrow is toilet paper day and it will be like this, too!’ I guess she was saying unless you get in line and go early you will not get what you want – it will be gone!
“We are feeling fine so far,” she said, “but we went home and showered from head to toe. Yuck!”
The deputy said it was the same at all of the county Publix locations.
From what I observed, the Publix staff inside the store were efficient: providing well wiped-down carts or baskets to each customer, one at time, and monitoring the aisles and check-outs as best they could. The shelves had been well stocked. Except for one Publix employee at the door, no one was monitoring the line outside.
The Publix customer service rep assured me “we are watching the situation and will make changes as needed.” Right now, he said, “We are installing Plexiglass panels between the cashiers and the customers.”
The weak link was obviously the lack of social-distancing among the hundreds waiting in line and inside the store as well. Interestingly, when I asked a Publix manager if each store had to report to headquarters about the new program, he said no, they did not. That makes absolutely no sense, at all.
Photos by Samantha Baita