Thousands of older Long Islanders flocked to supermarkets on Thursday for early hours set aside for them to shop with smaller crowds amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Shop & Stop stores across the region opened from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. for shoppers 60 years and older — an age group health officials say is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Many stores had lines of people waiting outside in the rain for the store to open.
“It went really well. We had a lot of senior shoppers turn up. We had lines,” said Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for the supermarket chain. “It clearly shows that this is what the communities wanted.”
She said she thought so many shoppers came because the program just started and due to the general “panic” caused by the coronavirus. That has led to widespread shortages of staples such as toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, chicken and eggs.
“I think a lot of it is the fact it was the first day for us. And I think a lot of seniors forget" that the stores will have the restricted hours every day, she said.
“We are urging everyone to try to calm down and only take what you need, so that way your neighbors can get what they need,” she said. “There is enough food to go around.”
Some shoppers said the scene at the Franklin Square store was somewhat chaotic, with large crowds, some empty shelves, and some shoppers on edge.
Other stores establishing early shopping hours for older customers include Target, which is reserving the first hour each Wednesday for that group and for people with underlying health issues, and Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, which is doing it every day.
That chain, which has six stores on Long Island, started the practice Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and it is proving popular, said spokeswoman Jillian Gundy.
“We are getting amazing feedback,” she said. “People are really happy that we are dedicating this time to those who are seniors or immune-compromised or pregnant.”
The chain also started a new service under which customers can call in orders for food or prepared meals, and have it delivered to their cars when they arrive.
“We just started it yesterday,” Gundy said Thursday, “and the results are phenomenal.”