First day of senior shopping at Old Northeast Publix produces long lines, run on toilet paper
The Great Publix Toilet Paper Run: Seniors lined up clear around the Northeast Shopping Center in St. Pete. Tuesday to take advantage of the seniors only shopping hour between seven and eight. All the toilet paper was gone within 10 minutes of opening. Photo courtesy: Susan Taylor Martin

Publix coronavirus
Toilet paper at a Northeast St. Pete Publix was gone within 10 minutes.

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.

Susan Martin

Susan Taylor Martin has been an editor, national correspondent, foreign correspondent and real estate and development writer for the Tampa Bay Times. She has won numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. A graduate of Duke University, she grew up in New York City (and is very glad she doesn't live there now and need to get to Florida without a 14-day quarantine!) You can contact her at [email protected] .


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