On Monday at noon, Mayor London Breed tweeted out the announcement that San Francisco residents would be ordered to stay home and shelter in place. And while the mayor repeatedly told residents not to rush out and panic buy groceries — grocery stores will be allowed to remain open throughout the order, which expires April 7 — the scene at Whole Foods in Noe Valley, normally cheerful and sunny during a weekday, rapidly devolved into admirably controlled chaos.
In fact, customers had already been nervous all morning. Bernadette “Bernie” Melvin, owner of Bernie’s Coffee Shop, which is just next door to Whole Foods on 24th Street, confirmed that residents had been lining up in the parking lot since 7:30 a.m., in anticipation of the store opening at 8 a.m. “Chicken,” she surmised. “They all want chicken. And toilet paper.”
Following the mayor’s announcement, pedestrians and cars rushed into the parking lot, with vehicles backed up on 24th Street and blocking traffic. Every shopping cart and every basket was quickly taken, leaving an empty corral at the entrance. Checkout lines grew all the way down one aisle, snaked around the end, and then all the way down the next aisle.
Customers pushed through the store, some wearing face masks and gloves, most ignoring the recommendation to stay six feet apart from other people, in their rush to grab items. In addition to chicken and toilet paper, many shelves quickly emptied, particularly the aisle for cereal, crackers, and dried goods.
In the span of half an hour, a dad broke a bottle of olive oil, which pooled in the center of an aisle. Another couple spilled a cup of hot coffee. More than one small child was crying.
To their credit, the staff remained incredibly helpful and calm, ducking between customers with rags and mops, running empty baskets to the front, and efficiently checking out and packing bags with gloved hands. By 1 p.m., the staff had closed the doors, started a line outside, and was limiting how many customers could enter the store at one time.