An unprecedented week: Local grocery stores experience surge in business amid Coronavirus pandemic

At left, Brother's has been one of the busiest spots in Grundy Center over the last week. At right, toilet paper has been hard to find at places like Trunck's in Reinbeck. (Left photo by Robert Maharry/Right photo courtesy of Sue Trunck)
Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY COUNTY- Nothing could have prepared the management and staff of Grundy County’s three grocery stores for last week. They’ve never experienced anything like it before, and they may never experience anything like it again.


“Some of the customers and I have compared it to the never-ending snowstorm,” said Joel Johnson, the manager of Brother’s Market in Grundy Center. “It’s been very challenging, and I enjoy a challenge.” 


Andy Havens, the manager of Hometown Foods in Conrad, made a similar comparison.


“It’s like a blizzard times 10,” he said. “You know, a blizzard lasts one day, and that’s about it. Sales get averaged. (But) this just keeps going.”


Brother’s, Hometown Foods and Trunck’s Country Foods in Reinbeck have seen an unprecedented surge in sales in response to the Coronavirus outbreak as residents are being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible to limit the spread. The situation is constantly evolving, but the managers of the stores are prepared for the current buying frenzy to last weeks or even months.


“We’re here to serve, and it’s easy to do it when it’s smooth sailing. But now, in waters like this, it’s like ‘Okay. This is when we have to step up,’” Trunck’s co-owner and manager Darren Trunck said. “I don’t want to use the word fun in a pandemic, but it’s a time to step up to the challenge. It breaks the routine, and days just fly by.”


Trunck, who co-owns and manages the store in Reinbeck with his wife Sue along with another one in Dysart, noticed a big change around last Monday when “it just went crazy,” and according to Darren, it really sunk in when people started hearing that Wal-Mart’s shelves were emptying in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. He drove all the way to Belle Plaine on Friday afternoon just to grab eight cases of eggs.


“We were out of eggs for an hour, and there was already a post on social media that we were out of eggs and ‘Where are we supposed to go to get eggs?’” Trunck said. “We’ve had people driving down from Waterloo to get ground beef, and it’s usually the opposite way. We’ve actually had customers come to us from out of town.”


Food staples like milk, eggs, bread, frozen pizzas, potatoes and ground beef—as well as toilet paper, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer—have disappeared rapidly from the shelves (forcing purchase limits on some items), and stores have made adjustments to their schedules to allow older and high-risk individuals to shop first thing in the morning. Busch Light, Iowa’s most popular beer, has also been a top seller, and at Trunck’s, ice cream has sold like crazy too.


“In times like this, I think (people) want comfort foods, and we’re just trying to remain calm, remain steady and do business day-to-day to give the community some sort of normalcy,” Darren Trunck said. “They know that they can come here.”


Johnson, who has been in the manager position for about six months, has added staffing at Brother’s during the day, and he told The Grundy Register that the workers have taken the changes in stride and done a remarkable job during the crisis.


“Considering most grocery stores have nothing to compare it to, I think most grocery stores have done a pretty good job,” he said.


And while they may not often be described as “heroes” the way teachers, police officers, soldiers, doctors and nurses are, grocery store workers are playing a crucial role in weathering the storm during this pandemic.


“Everybody has a valuable job in society, and it’s nice to see people realizing it,” Havens said. “Everybody in the supply chain is important, from the picker to the transporter to the guy behind the wheel in the semi.”


All three of the stores are part of small chains, and the managers, who have been in near constant contact with suppliers, have faced unique challenges compared to the giants in the industry. Due to the high volume demand, prices of some goods have been increased, and stores have been forced to pass on the cost to the customer.


They have also suspended can redemption for the duration of the emergency, a change that Havens has welcomed and highlighted as an opportunity to transition from redemption to recycling in the future.


The outbreak has been a test on almost everyone, every business and every institution across the state and the country, but in Grundy County, grocery store employees and managers have risen to the occasion and done all they can to help residents from both near and far.


“It’s our time to shine, and that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Havens said.


It’s also a strong reminder about the importance of shopping local.


“If we make it a pleasant shopping experience, then the next time, they have a chance to go ‘Well, are we going to go to Waterloo? Hey, we’ll just go to Brother’s Market.’ That’s your ultimate goal,” Johnson said. “We’re a small town community and a small town store, and we have to be able to do that.”


The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

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