CLINTON—March 11, 2020 is a day that Joel Atkinson won’t ever forget.
Atkinson is the store manager for Clinton Foods, at 603 Church St.
His daughter Hailey’s long-awaited trip to Germany was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that was just a small part of why the 11th was memorable.
“I could just sense something different about the way people were shopping,” Atkinson said. “They had a different look in their eye. We did have some people stocking up on that day, but it was more just a feel.”
Within the next 48 hours, Atkinson could see life in his small town store was going to change, and not just for a few weeks.
It didn’t take long before Atkinson imposed a unique rule at the store: One item maximum per customer, no matter the item.
“The first thing we did that on was paper products, for obvious reasons,” Atkinson said. “Then we had to do it on water, because people were just filling up their entire carts with cases of water. Pretty soon, we weren’t going to have bread, and we weren’t going to have milk for anyone else after that day if that continued to happen.”
Atkinson said the residents of Clinton were his primary concern.
“We wanted to make sure that people here in town had access to the things they needed,” Atkinson said. “We could’ve sold more product when this first happened. We could’ve pushed everything we had out the door. But we wanted to give the lady down the street who can’t go out of town everywhere to get a loaf of bread.
“There are certain things that are out of our control. We aren’t getting everything we are ordering, even with the limits they’ve imposed on us on certain products.”
Atkinson said staffing hasn’t been an issue for the most part despite the increased workload among the staff. He employs around 50 when also considering the Subway and Citgo gas station that are attached to the grocery store.
“We’ve had very few people that just said they wouldn’t work anymore,” Atkinson said. “And when those hours became available, others volunteered to work them. The staff here has been great.”
Atkinson said he expects sales, which are roughly double the normal volume, to continue to be robust as customers adjust to their new normal.
“I think we will come down a little bit as people get used to how things are,” Atkinson said. “But if you live in town, why would you want to go chase around items at Wal-Mart or Woodman’s? I know I wouldn’t. I think we will be busier than normal for a while.”
The closing of bars also had an immediate impact on the business as well.
“Within the next day or so, our alcohol sales more than doubled from what they normally would be,” Atkinson said. “And they’ve been up since then. We’ve seen a lot more traffic in that department.”
Atkinson said business has trended back towards normal in the past few days, but he doesn’t expect to be taking any vacations any time soon.