In response to the coronavirus social distancing, many major stores are offering some “senior only” shopping hours to reduce potential exposure of the most vulnerable population, the elderly; in Chicago, it is required of all “essential business” wanting to stay open during their lock-in. In most cases, the senior shopping hours are when the stores are first opened, allowing those 60 and older to enter the shops after they have been cleaned and restocked overnight
Some experts argue that this is not a good idea. They question the advisability of gathering all the most vulnerable at the same place at the same time, and might attract a larger crowd than if seniors simply came at random times during the day. Others say this encourages seniors to come shop, when really the most vulnerable should only be doing curbside pickup buying or staying at home entirely and having someone else deliver their purchases.
To see what it was like, I gave it a try this morning. My go-to regular grocery is Harris Teeter, which has a senior-only shopping hour from 6:00AM-8:00AM on Mondays and Thursday (Thursday is when seniors get 5% off all purchases, so that is the most popular shopping day for the 60+ crowd), and were opening their pharmacy those days at 7:00.
It was strange driving in the dark on fairly empty roads to go grocery shopping. However, when I turned into the parking lot, I joined a parade of cars of early-morning shoppers. I got there just as they opened, and stood in a line of appropriately social-distanced spaced apart consumers. One of the long-time employees wiped off each cart with disinfectant wipes and delivered it to us personally.
For that time in the morning, I was a little surprised how many people were there. However, it was a large store and the aisles really weren’t crowded. I had a pleasant experience and got most of what I wanted, although the toilet paper shelves were stripped clean by the initial wave of shoppers (I wasn’t trying to buy toilet paper, fortunately). People were friendly and cooperative, and I didn’t see any issue with shopping during a restricted time. Particularly once it got to be around 7, it didn’t look to me like everyone shopping was 60 or older, so it is probably best to be there first thing.
However, Harris Teeter should also make the doubters happy, because they are restricting their Express Lane Online shopping pick-ups to seniors only from 9AM-2PM on Thursdays and are waiving the usual $4.95 fee. Finally, they are cutting their delivery fee in half–from $10 to $5.00. Kudos to Harris Teeter for covering all the bases!
We have a Whole Foods right across the street from my Harris Teeter, so I ran over there to check out their pre-opening senior hour. Whole Foods had an employee at the door announcing the senior restrictions and gently turning away any potential customers who were not at least 60. The store was clean and beautiful and fully stocked, at least the places I went, which were vegetables, fish and meat, cheese and dairy, and baked goods. I got my avocado that Harris Teeter was out of, and appreciated that Whole Foods had their full selection of fresh meat, while that department was pretty sparse at Harris Teeter. I didn’t check out the TP or cleaning areas, but since I didn’t see any other customers with those in their carts, either Whole Foods didn’t have any or Whole Food customers planned ahead for toilet needs. The store was also busy, but again, not crowded.
Whole Foods actually had spaces tapped on the floor about how far apart we were supposed to stand while we were waiting in the check out line. The check out employees did ask us to bag our own purchases IF we brought our own reusable bags (as I did), while the Harris Teeter employees did it for me as usual. But that wasn’t a big deal. Whole Foods did have some lovely lavender hand sanitizer at the check out line.
I had a good experience and will probably shop the senior hours again, at least at those stores. Overall, I feel like it is probably safer to shop first thing, whether it is senior hour or not. Friends, however, have reported less pleasant experiences at senior shopper hours at some other businesses that will remain nameless. So it may depend on the store or company.
If you are 60 or older and want to give it a try, store offering senior hours include Trader Joes, Aldis, Costco, BJs, Walmart, Walgreen, Giant, Winn Dixie, Publix, Safeway, Big Lots, and Dollar General.