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Publix revamps ‘senior shopping’ initiative after rough start


After mob scenes developed at its first Senior Shopping Hours two weeks ago, Publix officials moved quickly to try to remedy errors and make the well-intentioned initiative safer for shoppers 65 and older, according to the company’s director of communications Maria Brous.

It remains to be seen if the changes make the plan a net health benefit.

The company announced its plan for special Senior Shopping Hours – 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays – in early March, saying it wanted to “serve our senior population” who are “at increased risk of complications from coronavirus.”

The special hours were intended to make shopping less stressful for older customers, including those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

When the first special shopping day arrived on Tuesday, March 24, though, it turned out to be “a nightmare,” according to shoppers who showed up as early as 6 a.m. in hopes of finding scarce items and shopping in a less crowded environment at the 7 a.m. opening.

Except for a few people with grocery carts, there was no “social distancing.” Instead, people stood shoulder to shoulder and back to front, in close proximity.

Except for one Publix employee at the door, no one was monitoring the line outside.

“Publix wanted to do something good, but this is just the opposite,” said one of three Indian River County Sheriff’s deputies who was on site.

“We had been out of a few things for days and had waited for elder hour,” said one shopper who didn’t want to give her name. “It was a big mistake, but we stayed. We broke all the rules about social distancing, from standing in line to shopping on top of each other.”

When Vero Beach 32963 contacted Publix headquarters in Lakeland to get a comment, a spokesman said the company had already received numerous complaints and that “a team has been dispatched to deal with the situation.”

When Brous was asked a few days later about changes that would be forthcoming, she mentioned the installation of plexiglass shields at registers; customer service desks and pharmacies; in-store signage and public address announcements reminding customers and associates about social distancing; and visual reminders of appropriate 6-foot spacing via tape on the floor at  registers.

These and any future measures, she added, “are conducted with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health departments.”

Brous also noted that, prior to the start of senior shopping, Publix had already begun closing its stores two hours early, at 8 p.m., to “focus on a heightened cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting program,” to make shopping safer for all customers. 

By the end of the second round of Senior Shopping Hours last week, the measures Brous enumerated had been completed or almost completed in all eight Indian River County Publix stores.
Store staff – and shoppers who decided to give it one more try – said that the second week saw slightly smaller crowds and greater adherence to social distancing protocols.