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Northeast Ohio Supermarkets Offer Elderly-Only Hours, Seek More Workers

A worker stocks shelves at the Giant Eagle in Strongsville on Wednesday. [Jim Sweeney / Adcom]
A worker stocks shelves at Giant Eagle supermarket in Strongsville during the coronavirus crisis

Northeast Ohio grocery stores continue to evolve with new ways of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Starting Wednesday, at least one chain is offering elderly-only shopping times, while two others are actively recruiting workers to keep up with high demand.

All of Whole Foods Markets' four locations in Akron and three Cleveland suburbs will open at least half an hour early so customers 60 or older can get a head start on their shopping. The chain said it wants to give older customers, who are more vulnerable to infection, a chance to shop when stores are at their cleanest and least crowded.

The Rocky River and University Heights Whole Foods locations will open at 7:30 a.m., half an hour earlier than usual. The Orange and Akron locations will open at 7 a.m.

Dan Donovan of Giant Eagle said Wednesday that the Pittsburgh-based chain — with 21 locations in Cuyahoga County — is also considering adding elderly-only hours. But a more immediate focus is hiring new workers, he said. They’re needed to help clean stores and restock shelves emptied by worried consumers.

"We need more people in our supermarkets, in our warehouses and elsewhere," Donovan said. "Whether that be on a limited-time basis or on a longer term basis, we will put you to work as soon as we are able."

Giant Eagle is not experiencing major supply interruptions for any items except hand sanitizer, Donovan said. Toilet paper, which has been widely reported on social media as being in short supply, has been selling quickly but is consistently restocked, he said.

Dave’s Markets, with 13 locations in the greater Cleveland and Akron area, is also actively recruiting for part-time and permanent workers.

"We are looking for team members to join us," the Cleveland-based chain wrote Wednesday on its Facebook page. "This includes those looking for a temporary job in stocking or cleaning or a permanent job elsewhere in our stores."

Stores also report they are taking additional measures to keep stores clean and protect the safety of workers.

Giant Eagle has begun to "relax attendance policies," Donovan said, meaning employees will not risk losing their jobs for taking time off — even beyond what they are normally allotted — if they feel sick or need to take care of sick family members.

"No team member has to feel like they will be negatively impacted by stepping up and doing what's best for them and their health," Donovan said.

Whole Foods said in a release it would close stores up to two hours early beginning Wednesday in part to give staff "more time to... rest in preparation for the next day."

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.