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San Franciscans Brawl Over Social Distance at Local Grocery Store

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Bay Area-based Safeway is staffing up to help accomodate the stressed-out masses

COVID-19 in Colorado
Shelves at Bay Area grocery stories were emptied Monday on the news that the region must shelter-in-place
Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

On Monday, public health officials repeatedly told Bay Area residents that there was no need to rush out to local grocery stores to stock up on items for the three-week shelter-in-place that began at midnight on Tuesday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, residents of the Bay Area ignored that guidance, lining up outside grocery stores to gather supplies for the long haul.

Even before Monday’s order to remain at home, things were tense at grocery stores in the Bay Area and beyond. Beans were swept from store shelves at record pace, for example, and long lines and packed parking lots were the new normal — patterns that escalated on Monday, even though officials across all six counties have been very clear that grocery stores will remain open as part of the order, and that residents will be allowed to travel to and from stores during the period.

By Sunday afternoon, for example, things had reached a boiling point at the Safeway located at the Safeway at 730 Taraval Street, Twitter user louisuhhhhh says. “Someone brought their bike into the store and someone else got pissed at him for ‘crowding an already crowded area,” they say, and “then things escalated and their friends joined in.” The result was “a small and a violent fight” “that led to people throwing wine bottles clear across the store.” Here’s video from the event:

louisuhhhhh hastens to add that “I hate to sensationalize anything and my only purpose was to educate people that these things can and have happened. More than anything, I’d hate to hear of any more incidents” like that one. And so far, according to the SFPD, things haven’t gotten to that point — but it’s worth noting that shortly after Mayor London Breed tweeted about SF’s mandatory stay home order, the Whole Foods in Noe Valley was packed. By 1 p.m., it had closed its doors and asked customers to form a line outside, allowing only a limited number of customers at a time.

The same restrictions were in place at Bi-Rite and Gus’s Market in the Mission District, Mission Local reports. In the Castro, area resident Violet Blue says, 20 minutes after Breed’s announcement, “lines inside the store coil all the way around. Bread shelves are empty, no eggs left, beans are out.”

In the Outer Sunset, Other Avenues Food Cooperative also took the close-doors-and-form-a-line approach. By 2 p.m. Monday, the queue extended to the end of the block, but seemed orderly and pleasant, with patrons maintaining social distance.

By the end of the day, ABC 7 reports, many stores were swept bare, especially of staples like milk, eggs, and meat. According to the California Grocers Association president Ron Fong, however, there’s plenty to go around, if they can just figure out a way to get it to stores. “There’s plenty of supply,” Fong told ABC 7, “but delivering it to our stores and trying to keep up with the buying patterns of hoarding and overbuying is an impossibility at this point.”

To meet the demand, East Bay based Safeway announced that it has immediate openings for in-store employees as well as delivery drivers for its stores in Northern California, Western Nevada, and Hawaii. According to a press release sent by the company, it is seeking 2,000 people for its “Safeway, Andronico’s, Vons, and Pak ‘N Save retail stores.” Speaking with KPIX, Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall says, “Some openings were already available and some are a result of the increasing needs of our communities.” Those interested in applying may do so here.

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