KIMBALL — For many, Friday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck. For several grocery stores in the area, it marked the start of their busiest stretch of work serving their customers.
That Friday was the day Gov. Kristi Noem declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak and asked schools statewide to close down.
“When they announced that there wouldn't be school that next week, I think we just had parents, purchasing food items for their children to eat during the next week,” said Natalie Briggs, who co-owns Ron’s Market grocery stores in four towns with her husband Jeff.
“Being stuck at home with the kids, they're eating more since they won't be having school lunches for a while,” Briggs said.
“Madness,” is how Michelle Soulek, who co-owns Michelle’s Market in Kimball with her husband Joe, has described the last 10 days.
“We'd usually get about 140 customers a day. It's over the 200 mark now,” she said. “For the past week, it's been unreal. There's a couple of nights that we just, as soon as we locked the doors, we did nothing. We just needed to wind down, and it's just nonstop.”
With several towns across the state practically shut down to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, local store owners are trying to be more stringent than ever in cleanliness while still being able to provide groceries and other supplies to their customers.
The Springs Food Market in Wessington Springs closed its store to foot traffic and limited its services to curbside pick up or delivery. A move the store decided to do as a means of being proactive to help reduce the spread of the virus.
“We decided it on our own that this is what we were going to do,” said Ryan Jensen, co-owner of the Springs Food Market. “You know there is a city-wide ordinance, but we would not have to be shut down if we didn't want to be. We could only allow 10 people if we wanted to, but we just decided to shut it off to the public at this point so we can help stop the spread of the virus.”
It's a move Jensen said the town supports. He co-owns the store with his sister Lisa Younie.
“Our city has stood behind us, but also our customers and community have stood behind us,” Jensen said. “I talked to one city councilman, and they kind of used us as an example of what we were doing (to limit the chance of spread).”
In Kimball, Soulek and her three employees are stressing cleanliness with sanitizing counter-tops, hand sanitizing and wiping down carts as much as possible.
The Ron’s Market stores — located in Plankinton, White Lake, Stickney and Tripp — have seen an increase in deliveries to senior customers and they are offering curbside orders for those wanting to limit their contact in public.
Ginny Banek, owner of the Prairie View Assisted Living Center in Kimball, said the deliveries of groceries have helped protect her residents as their facility has been on lockdown since March 11.
Some stores in bigger towns, such as Sioux Falls and Mitchell, have seen stores run out of supplies. Briggs, Soulek and Jensen are working hard to stay stocked up for their customers.
“We're only able to receive so many items. So we're limited. So when people are buying, more, it makes our shelves a little less and then we're not able to restock everything as we normally would,” Jensen said. “So it's probably going to take us a little bit longer in order to get things getting stocked back up, but, we'll do it and we'll make it through it.”
Soulek had to put a limit on toilet paper, flour and potatoes. While Briggs and Jensen noted they’ve only put limits on toilet paper so far.
“We haven't had any customers that really bought more than what we thought was a good limit amount,” Briggs said. “Mostly everybody is just picking up what they need to get by for their families.”
While groceries stores regularly are busy at holiday times, they don’t usually stay this busy for this long. The owners all gave praise to the hard work of their staff during this busy time.
“We have an awesome team that helps us get through every day and we just can't thank them enough,” Briggs said. “We have some great customers in our small towns and we just try to do our best for them every day.”
As people are still encouraged to limit their contact with others, Briggs, Soulek and Jensen reiterated they’re doing all they can to be available to their customers.
“We will be here for all of our customers until this is done and after that. We'll get through it together,” Jensen said. “You know, it’s a statewide ordeal. So we will definitely get through it all together.”