In February 2020 Joseph Hardin Coulombe died at the age of 90. He founded the Trader Joe’s grocery store chain in the U.S. in 1967, and he would have been proud of the way TJ handled the recent spate of panic buying and hoarding.
Those of us who have discovered the TJ grocery chain consider ourselves to be fortunate. A privately-held corporation, Trader Joe’s is able to focus on getting the best quality product at the lowest price and passes the savings to its customers. Even Whole Foods, which is much larger and is publicly traded, keeps an eye on Trader Joe’s.
On a worldwide basis, we are experiencing daily concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. We wait anxiously for news about detection kits, treatment options and an eventual vaccine, as well as how to protect ourselves during this time of everything being in a state of flux.
Some citizens chose to respond to this medical crisis by engaging in panic buying, or hoarding. Suddenly shelves in Trader Joe’s, Walgreens and CVS were empty. Everyone wanted to own tons of toilet paper and cleaning supplies, as though they thought the world was coming to an end and this would be their last chance to purchase. And in Trader Joe’s the effect was devastating: entire meat departments were emptied in one morning, along with all canned goods and dry cereals.
Store managers and employees were stunned and stressed. No one expected a line through the parking lot and down the street at 8 in the morning. Since people were behaving badly, something had to be done.
I do not recall experiencing anything like this in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Grocery stores struggled to stay open without electricity. We used flashlights to pick items off shelves, and clerks rang up our purchases on an old-fashioned adding machine. We bought soft drinks for Municipal Railway bus drivers who could not leave their electric vehicles. Around 5p in my neighborhood we gathered around the steps next door because a neighbor brought out his battery-operated television and we watched Dan Rather exaggerate the fire damage in San Francisco. Five days later, when phone service was restored, my relatives called in a state of hysteria thinking I was barely alive in a burned-out city. Thanks a lot, Dan.
If people were going to behave badly, then they would be subjected to new rules.
Rumors cause panic. And that’s what we experienced here in SF for a while in March 2020, as some of us were left to search for any store which might have toilet paper on its shelves. However, Trader Joe’s rose to the occasion. If people were going to behave badly, then they would be subjected to new rules.
Opening an hour later and closing two hours early, TJ began to limit the number of people who could be in the store at one time, and to limit the quantity of any item being purchased. Order was restored, the warehouses would have time to catch up, and the employees could breathe again.
To the employees and managers of TJ stores in the City, and to the other stores which had to take extraordinary measures to limit panic buying, thanks for your patience and forbearance during the period when people were behaving badly. And we truly hope the hoarders learned something about what it takes to be a good neighbor.