People 65 and older might be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, but that didn’t stop thousands from flocking to Publix supermarkets before dawn Tuesday to take advantage of a seniors-only hour to shop for toilet paper and other hard-to-find in-items.
By 6:40 a.m. , well over 100 seniors were standing in line – much closer then the recommended six feet of separation – as they awaited the 7 a.m. opening of the Publix in St. Petersburg’s Northeast Shopping Center. By the magic hour the line stretched all the way to a CVS a full city block away, with later arrivals doing a lightly better job of social distancing.
Store managers did not check IDs of the balding and gray-haired crowd, but admitted shoppers in groups of about 25. Most grabbed carts and high-tailed it to an aisle briefly full of Angel Soft and Publix brand toilet paper. The entire stock was gone in less than 10 minutes.
Similar scenes were reported at a Publix in Wesley Chapel and stores elsewhere. The supermarket chain, among the nation’s biggest, announced last week that it would have the seniors-only hours on Tuesdays and Wednesday, starting today.
Several other retailers including Whole Foods and Fresh Market also are setting aside time for older people and those with underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to a virus that has infected nearly 400,000 worldwide and killed at least 17,250. There have been more than 1,200 cases in Florida, with 17 deaths as of late Monday.
Even though today was the start of the Great Toilet Paper Run at Publix for seniors, shoppers of all ages have been lining up at stores long before opening since mid-March in a desperate bid to grab toilet paper. Last Wednesday, a frazzled cashier at the Northeast Publix said the 200 people waiting when the store opened at 8 a.m. literally raced toward the paper goods aisle.
“It was like NASCAR,” she said.