Making things stretch

Valley Foods puts limits on toilet paper, hand sanitizer to prevent ‘panic-buying’

Series: COVID-19 | Story 9

With how remote many towns in Wyoming are, one might have expected that the panic-buying induced by uncertainty over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) would not reach parts of the Cowboy State. This was proven wrong, however, as posts on social media detailed the stockpiling seen by residents in Rawlins, the Carbon County seat, at both WalMart and City Market.

In the days before and the days following reports of Wyoming’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, Wyoming has confirmed 10 as of late Monday night, employees of the two stores would post when deliveries of toilet paper and other goods were expected. That quickly stopped, however, as those items would be depleted before days end.

Even Saratoga was not untouched by this experience. As of Sunday evening, the shelves at Family Dollar, which normally would hold a variety of toilet paper brands, were bare. The chain-store was also out of hand sanitizer. The effect was even felt at Valley Foods, according to manager Adam Clarke.

“My wife was out of town, I was at home, and she said there was a Facebook post that in Saratoga there were lines out the door for people buying toilet paper and most of them weren’t from our community,” said Clarke. 

After talking with his wife, Misty, Clarke went down to Valley Foods and drove through his parking lot to see how many license plates bore the number six, the number assigned to Carbon County. According to Clarke, nearly half of the cars in his lot weren’t from Carbon County and a number of them weren’t from Wyoming.

“It was calm but everybody was kind of panic-buying toilet paper,” Clarke said. “So, one of the things that I did was I took stuff that I had in-store specials on and went right back to shelf price because I was trying to do whatever I could to slow it down.”

Despite removing the in-store special on some of his brands, which meant going from a price of $6.99 to $13.99, the mass purchase of toilet paper didn’t seem to be slowing down by much. 

“Within the next 10 minutes, talking with my wife, she goes, ‘Well, maybe you should just put a limit on it.’ So, I went to a two package limit just to try to keep it slow and calm. I don’t want people to drive here from Colorado, buy me out of one brand to take back home. Some people were reselling online. Some people are just hoarding,” said Clarke. “When it comes down to the scheme of things, I want to take care of the Valley. The sales are what they are. I couldn’t tell you what I did last week. It doesn’t really matter to me. The people in the Valley are the ones that are going to be here when this all flies over, so that’s who we want to take care of first.”

For Clarke, that goes beyond just Saratoga and Encampment but extends to Elk Mountain and Hanna as well. 

In the immediate future, Valley Foods will maintain a limit on toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, two other items that were also depleted from the shelves. Currently, those items are on allocation with the warehouses Clarke goes through. This means that, while he may order 10 cases of an item he might get just one.

“Hand sanitizer, for the last, almost, three weeks, I’ve ordered every hand sanitizer, three cases of each, and I hope I get two,” Clarke said. “Last week I got three on Friday.”

Clarke is almost certain that pallets of toilet paper he had pre-booked for upcoming sales will not arrive, either. He isn’t upset about it, though, saying, “It’s the way it’s going to be.” He hopes the limits placed on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes will allow Valley Foods to stretch out supplying its customers with necessities. Still, he stresses that people should remain calm about what their local grocery store will be able to supply.

“I think that everybody needs to self-isolate and only go out when you need to. Do not buy to hoard stuff. If somebody buys 30 containers of hand sanitizer and they’re sitting in their closet, it does nobody any good,” said Clarke. “Let me freak out about getting stuff here. Don’t freak out about buying stuff.”


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