PORT ANGELES — Grocers and large retailers in Clallam County already were familiar with capacity restrictions put in place by state government since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring and many have been able to adapt easily to new limitations announced a week ago by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Those restrictions limit grocery stores, retail stores and personal care businesses, such as hair salons, to 25-percent capacity based on the amount of square feet inside each business.
That’s a 5 percent reduction in capacity; most retailers were previously at a 30-percent occupancy threshold.
So far, retailers say panic buying has been limited, capacity issues have yet to pop up and customers continue to follow face mask and social distancing requirements.
But with the holidays on the horizon, there is some uncertainty if customers will stick to their traditional purchasing habits.
“So far there hasn’t been much of an impact,” said Don Droz, general manager of Swain’s General Store in Port Angeles.
“We were at 191 [in-store capacity] and now we are at 159, but normally we don’t have that many people in the store at one time.
“The big test for us will be Black Friday and if we have to have people form a line, we will do that.”
Curbside pickup is available by calling Swain’s at 360-452-2357.
Reached Friday, Sequim QFC Store Leader Jeff Lundstrom said his store expected business to pick up this weekend as customers shop for Thanksgiving.
With federal, state and county public health officials advising against holiday travel and urging Thanksgiving meals be limited to those in a person’s own household, Lundstrom said he and staffers are wondering just exactly how that will shake out in terms of demand.
“We’ve been trying to brainstorm how it’s going to flow this year with the advice to have smaller gatherings,” Lundstrom said.
“It could add to our business with more people needing supplies for more smaller gatherings. We could see more demand for turkeys and turkey breasts this year with more people following that advice and staying home,” he continued.
”It’s really hard to tell right now.”
His store has come close to reaching capacity, but he said his QFC branch is equipped with occupancy-sensing technology that helps the store keep a handle on how many customers are shopping at any one time.
“We have technology working for us, Lundstrom said. “We can track how many people are coming in and out through senors in the ceiling.
“If we get near the threshold we have warnings that tell us and then we would do a physical count in the store. We don’t have somebody at the door counting the number of folks entering and exiting all the time.”
Lundstrom said the technology predates the pandemic but was implemented to aid COVID-19 prevention efforts.
Some stock has been tough to keep supplied throughout the pandemic.
“We have had a hard time getting some items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and paper towels from the distribution center, so it’s hard to tell if there’s been any of that [hoarding supplies],” he said.
”We haven’t had as much as we’d like to put on the shelves. And we still have limits on those types of items to make sure we can provide them to as many customers as we can.
Lundstrom is hoping to move more employees into grocery pickup roles due to a rise in demand for that service.
“We have absolutely seen a rise in grocery pickup. Ppeople are doing the right thing there,” Lundstrom said. “We more demand than we have capacity, so it’s been a challenge to make the lines meet up in that regard.”
Rick Dale, assistant manager at Saar’s Super Saver Foods in Port Angeles, said the store has seen a bump in sales this week.
“Business is up a little bit,” Dale said. “People are accustomed to wearing masks, social distancing and doing their part by now and we haven’t seen any big hoarding runs.
“We have had a little increase in preparation shopping,” he added. “Some people are doing their Thanksgiving meal shopping early. Generally, the rush we would receive next week has already taken place.”
Dale said Saar’s posts an employee to count customers entering the building during peak business hours.
“The only times we have somebody counting by the front door is in the mid-afternoon to evening,” Dale said. “The reduction in capacity, it’s really not a huge difference. A lot of people didn’t realize capacity was cut down to 30 percent initially because it doesn’t seem like [capacity restrictions] was played up as much in the media the first time around.”
Forks Outfitters store manager Dave Gedlund said he checked store capacity with a store employee who volunteers for the fire department after Inslee spoke last Sunday.
“We did take the chairs out of our espresso shop to prevent people from sitting in them, but the bottom line is nothing has really changed for us since the governor’s announcement,” Gedlund said.
“We haven’t seen any hoarding and we already put limits on it [earlier in the pandemic]. Some things are on allocation still, so if you wanted to order 10 of something you’d get one.
We had trouble getting water, toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies. Those are the types of items that have been limited by distributors so that everybody gets something.
“But we are in good shape as of [Friday], in terms of stock,” Gedlund continued.
“Some people are starting to do their Thanksgiving shopping and we put a note in to fill your pantry early and then come get your perishables. Make two trips so we can avoid any big crowds.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].