Minnesotans spurred on by anxiety and uncertainty streamed into stores to close out the week in a holiday-like shopping frenzy of stocking up on essentials.
Parking lots were crowded to overflowing and checkout lines were long at big-box stores around the Twin Cities and smaller towns as people came to grips with the possibility that they could have to shelter for some time from the coronavirus.
“This is worse than Christmas,” said Gina Jenkins of Waverly as she filled her SUV at a Costco in St. Louis Park. “The greeter was yelling ‘No toilet paper or paper towels’ to people at the entrance.”
Jenkins said she waited in line to park at the store and took 30 minutes to get through the checkout line.
The run to build “pandemic pantries” began two weeks ago but accelerated this week as more Americans became sick, financial markets trembled, travel plunged and business, sports and entertainment events shut down across the country.
As the week went on, businesses began following one another in encouraging people to work from home. In downtown Minneapolis on Friday, offices, skyways and restaurants had noticeably thinned out.
At Chameleon Shoppes on the skyway level of the IDS Center, which exhibits goods from seven female- and minority-owned retailers, two of the owners said Friday that walk-in traffic was light.
Among larger retailers Friday, store after store was low or out of stock on paper products, canned soup, rice, pasta and bleach. Earlier this week, some retailers started putting limits on purchases of paper products, hand sanitizers and face wipes.
Shoppers, exhibiting a just-in-case mentality more commonly seen in severe weather, bought out things they use every day that won’t go bad.
For the past several days, more than 200 people have lined up at 10 a.m. to get paper products at Costco’s St. Louis Park location, a store supervisor said. The store’s supplies run out in 15 minutes, he said.
Across the country, toilet paper appears to be in short supply.
“The situation is highly dynamic and changing daily,” Procter & Gamble, maker of Charmin toilet paper and Bounty paper towels, said in a statement, adding that it is “working diligently” to serve customers.
At a Cub Foods in St. Louis Park, Danelle McNutt of Minneapolis said she got everything on her list except toilet paper.
“I ordered toilet paper from Amazon and it got stolen from our front porch,” she said. “Now Cub is out, too. At least I found Kleenex at Target.”
McNutt said she isn’t stockpiling for herself and her husband but is buying more than usual. “We’re making sure that our parents and grandparents have enough,” she said.
Stockers with pallets piled high could be found in nearly every food aisle at a Target store Friday, but shoppers were outpacing them. Potatoes, yogurt, frozen pizzas and frozen dinners were picked over.
Business owners in downtown Minneapolis were getting ready to adjust to fewer people being around, both on weekdays and during weekend and nighttime entertainment hours.
Barb Gardiner, an owner of Hen House on Second Avenue, said breakfast and lunch business was pretty good this week. But with all the cancellations of sports and arts events, and fewer downtown workers, next week could look a lot different.
At the Local, an Irish-themed bar and restaurant on Nicollet Mall, a national conference that concluded Friday helped bring the lunchtime crowd to average.
“But dinner has been slower than normal with the Hennepin Avenue shows closing and at the Guthrie and Orchestra Hall, the talent is canceling,” said David Johnson, assistant general manager.
The restaurant usually has its biggest weekend of the year for St. Patrick’s Day, with as many as 700 patrons lining up for fish and chips, cabbage and corned beef. They would be served by 15 bartenders, up to 20 wait staff and up to 15 in the kitchen.
But on Friday, Johnson called several people who work only a few big days a year to tell them they wouldn’t be needed Saturday.
“St. Paul and Minneapolis already have canceled their St. Patrick’s Day parades,” he said. “That’s not going to be good for business.”