Grocers adjust hours for at-risk shoppers

Vallarta, Best Buy and Save Mart offer special hours for seniors, pregnant women, disabled and those with compromised immune systems

The Sun-Gazette

TULARE COUNTY – Grocery stores began offering special hours last week for seniors to shop before the masses pack the stores, increasing the likelihood of contracting a virus whose fatality rate increases with age.

Vallarta Supermarkets was among the first grocers in Tulare County to offer early morning hours for seniors and pregnant women as well as those with disabilities and compromised immune systems. Beginning on March 18, the company opened exclusively to these groups an hour before the general public each day from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. The special hour was implemented across all of its 50 locations in California, including Tulare, Porterville and Visalia.

“Our customers especially our most vulnerable can depend on Vallarta Supermarkets to continue providing fresh premium-quality products, and excellent customer service during these stressful times,” said Andrew Lewis, Vice President of Marketing, Vallarta Supermarkets. “These special hours, along with our efforts to improve checkout times, restock shelves, and assist with customer service are some of the changes we’re making in an effort to meet the high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Vallarta Supermarkets is asking its other customers to be patient while shopping and urges customers to limit mass purchases and stockpiling. They also want the public to know that the fresh quality products they are accustomed to will not run out. It is working overtime to keep its stores well stocked with daily shipments.

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Independent grocers are getting involved as well. Best Buy Markets, which has locations in Visalia, Hanford and Lemoore, started offering special hours for the elderly and disabled on March 19. Becky Martinez, store manager for the Visalia location, said the store has seen a lot of seniors take advantage of the special hour from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. daily.

“It’s hard for seniors to get here but it seems to be working for people,” she said. “Others have been patient, waiting until after 8 a.m. for their turn. The understanding has been awesome.”

Save Mart Companies, which operates 205 stores throughout California and norther Nevada, set aside 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. morning every Tuesday and Thursday for higher risk populations to shop, such as seniors, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. The three-hour early entry for at-risk shoppers were implemented across the company’s different store banners including FoodMaxx, Lucky and Save Mart.

Not all grocery stores have implemented special hours for at-risk residents, but most have shortened their hours of operation. WinCo announced on March 16 that it will be open from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days per week, but may vary at each location. The employee-owned grocery chain said the store will temporarily close various stores in the early morning so that stores can be safely cleaned and restocked.

The company is also hiring temporary clerks for many of its locations. Anyone interested in working for the grocery chain is asked to apply online at The only WinCo store in Tulare County is located at 3939 West Caldwell Avenue in Visalia.

On March 15, Smart & Final announced its stores will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until further notice. The Los Angeles-based grocery chain has two stores in Visalia and one each in Tulare and Porterville.

“The reduced hours allow us sufficient time to thoroughly clean our stores, restock merchandise and ensure a safe and healthy shopping experience for our customers and employees,” the store said on its website.

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