Leaders Plead With Shoppers To Stop Over-Buying At Grocery Stores

The checkout line at the King Kullen in Bridgehampton. KATHRYN MENU

Government officials from every corner are exhorting residents to stop hoarding food and paper goods, and laboring in daily addresses to reassure them that manufacturing and supply chains will not be interrupted by a rise in infections from the new coronavirus or the nationwide efforts to slow its spread.

Empty store shelves, particularly the toilet paper and canned goods aisles, have been the Hallmark image of the coronavirus crisis so far, and business and government leaders have said the shortages are purely a matter of a fully functioning supply system that was on a regular schedule being overwhelmed by hyper-inflated demand spurred by irrational fears over the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic will impact the world.

“The hoarding is something that really needs to be addressed,” U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin said on Sunday. “There are people going out for essentials and they are not available because people took too much before them.

“My message to anyone out here is: When you go to the store, buy what you need,” he added. “Be considerate of those who are coming after you.”

Grocery store companies have started to impose limits on the number of certain items a shopper can buy at one time. King Kullen and Costco have both limited shoppers to purchasing no more than two packs of toilet paper per visit, a move that officials said they hoped would help the supply lines catch up, eventually.

But shoppers are still cleaning out most new deliveries within an hour or two of them being returned to shelves.

Much of the frenzied buying seems to be driven, officials said, by fears that a surge in illness, or staff cuts to reduce spread, will interrupt the manufacturing and supply of food and dry goods as the epidemic swells in America. Some imports of products made overseas, especially in China, have indeed been slowed, but grocery store suppliers have said there are no critical shortages on the horizon.

“Don’t listen to rumors — you have the craziest rumors out there,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said during one of his daily addresses over the weekend. “Society functions. Everything works. There’s going to be food in the grocery stores. There’s no reason to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that the county and state have been in touch with grocery store chains and have been assured that there are more than ample supplies of all food products and paper goods and that deliveries are continuing as they always have and that production is not being halted or slowed.

“The food will be coming next week, and it will be coming the week after that,” said Mr. Bellone, who is still working from his home in voluntary self-quarantine after members of his staff tested positive for COVID-19. “They may face exposures in their businesses just like [any business] and just like we are here at Suffolk County and they should take precautions with staff members when that happens like anyone else would. But they will continue working. With limits in place … we think the situation should be calming down.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman noted that some of the problem is also likely related to the surge of population the South Fork saw last week as second-homeowners fled the close confines of New York City.

“Typically, most summer homes are empty now, but we think they are about 50 … 60 percent full, so we have a larger population than what we would expect for March and April,” he said. “So the staffing levels may not be geared up yet, so they’re having a hard time keeping up. They are doing the best they can. People are just buying faster than they can restock shelves.”