Shopping pattern changes

A Little Current store’s sign posted last week was indicative of store shortages across Manitoulin. On Monday the Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged Ontarians to stop panic buying.’

Island retailers comment on COVID-19 response

MANITOULIN – Unease over COVID-19 has caused stores in some parts of the continent to run out of goods due to customers stockpiling food and household essentials in advance of possibly having to self-quarantine, and store owners and managers on Manitoulin Island have noted unique trends in the region based on a poll of several stores conducted last week by The Expositor.

“We’ve realized that Island people are not leaving the Island as much and are instead shopping locally, which is great for us. We hate to be getting the benefit of a bad situation but that’s the word we’re hearing from our shoppers. And our customer count and sales numbers indicate that’s true,” said Manitowaning Freshmart owner Al Mattison.

As for the items that have been leaving the shelves in the highest numbers, Mr. Mattison’s observations were matched by most stores on Manitoulin.

“We’re getting an uptake in toilet paper sales but nothing too huge. Our hand sanitizer is gone and our wipes are depleted. All we can do is keep trying to order from our supplier,” he said.

Hand sanitizer was sold out nearly universally across Manitoulin Island when The Expositor polled several stores this past Wednesday and Thursday. The only store that had any left was Carl’s Trading Post in South Baymouth, but their remaining stock of four travel-sized hand sanitizer units was gone by press time Monday.

“We do have lots of toilet paper,” said Carl’s Trading Post store clerk Barbara McMurray. She noted that one of the last customers to buy hand sanitizer had travelled to several towns before finally finding success in South Baymouth. Ward’s General Store co-owner Susan Ward, also in Tehkummah, noted some hand sanitizer tourists had visited her store, though she was sold out completely.

Consumers across North America and in other parts of the world have shopped for toilet paper in mass quantities, leading many stores in urban centres to run completely dry of paper products. That does not seem to be a widespread problem on Manitoulin for the time being. 

“Our toilet paper is getting a little low and we got an email from our Loblaw’s supplier this morning saying these items, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer and such, are in such high demand that they’re having trouble keeping up with the supply,” said M’Chigeeng Freshmart manager Kim Tucker.

She said sales spiked on the day of M’Chigeeng’s coronavirus information meeting, but said she didn’t think the sales rushes were as bad as those in bigger centres on the mainland.

At Dean’s Valu-Mart in Gore Bay, owner Dean Moss said the store was well-stocked with all manner of paper products and that it had been selling a higher amount of canned goods than average.

Mindemoya Foodland owner Carol Patterson described the state of her store as “business as usual.”

Owner Dianne Tessier at G.G’s Foodland in Little Current said an extra skid of toilet paper was soon to arrive. The only major difference in sales at her location has been hand sanitizer, though she has seen in emails from southern Ontario stores that they are feeling the effects much more strongly.

Across the street at Orr’s Valu-Mart, owner Andrew Orr said the store had ordered extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer, though the main brands were sold out and he had to opt for a natural organic lemon and peppermint variety. Disinfectant wipes were sold out and canned food and water had been selling at steady rates.

Andy’s in Wiikwemkoong has not experienced major sales pushes, though hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes have been popular items. Owner and manager James Manitowabi said the store was taking precautions in case the virus should arrive.

Nearby at Your Dollar Store With More in Wiikwemkoong, manager Jason Oshkabewisens said the main push he experienced was during last weekend’s hockey initiation jamboree. Many customers had been in to search for hand sanitizer but otherwise sales had been fairly close to normal.

“People have been asking for aloe vera gel to make their own hand sanitizer, but other than that there haven’t been any specific items that have sold a lot,” said Mr. Oshkabewisens.

Island pharmacies have noticed similar trends in people attempting to make their own hand sanitizer after the pre-made stocks ran out.

“We’ve never run out of aloe vera gel before now, and you can’t buy rubbing alcohol any more,” said Robertson’s IDA Drug Store front store manager Tammy Robinson. The Gore Bay store has been selling plenty of masks, Tylenol and cold and flu medicines in addition to the regular heavy-sale items.

“Hopefully everybody relaxes a bit and we’ll get through this,” she said.

Ashley Taylor, the front store manager for the Mindemoya and Manitowaning Guardian Pharmacies said even the companies that make hand sanitizer have had trouble getting ingredients for the production process. She has also seen pushes on rubber gloves (only size small was remaining when she spoke with The Expositor), and was sold out of masks and hand sanitizer. The central warehouse was also empty of those products.

“We just need to follow what the Ministry (of Health) is saying; keep your hands clean, if you’re sick stay away from others, those normal things,” said Ms. Taylor.

Stores are also implementing measures to reduce any possible infection rates within their walls. M’Chigeeng Freshmart employees have to wear gloves when they’re on the floor and Orr’s Valu-Mart has implemented thrice-daily wipe-downs on its check-out pinpads, cart handles and door handles.

Notable in The Expositor’s survey was that most stores seemed to have a healthy supply of soap on their shelves. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends soap as a much more effective tool than hand sanitizer to stop the spread of coronaviruses like COVID-19.

Ensure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing well and covering all surfaces. Water temperature does not make a difference in handwashing effectiveness but drying hands with paper towel is the safest method of drying. WHO also recommends avoiding touching your face.