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Supermarkets offer senior shopping hours to aid Sonoma County residents at risk for coronavirus

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Senior shopping at Sonoma County stores

Oliver’s Market: daily from 6-7 a.m.

Whole Foods: daily from 8-9 a.m.

Safeway: Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 a.m.

Lucky Supermarket: Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 a.m.

Target: Wednesday from 8-9 a.m.

Pacific Market: daily from 7-8 a.m. in Santa Rosa; 6-7 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 7-8 a.m. Sunday in Sebastopol

Nugget Market (Sonoma): Tuesday and Thursday from 6-8 a.m., beginning March 24

Walmart: Wednesday from 6-7 a.m., beginning March 24

It was barely past 6 a.m., and Gene McClelland, 71, of Penngrove needed a jolt of caffeine before he could walk the aisles of Oliver’s Market in Cotati on Friday to stock up on fresh produce and a few treats for his wife.

“I can’t make it as good as they do,” McClelland said as the barista walked over with his mocha.

McClelland has had his share of health concerns over the past year, battling a form of cancer that’s weakened his immune system. Shopping before sunrise gave him a chance to avoid the frenzied crowds that have swarmed Sonoma County stores, where anxieties over the coronavirus have caused panic-buying and hoarding despite a strong food supply.

With all of California now required to shelter at home to slow the spread of COVID-19, many stores like Oliver’s are now opening earlier to help the elderly and people dealing with underlying health issues, who are the most susceptible to the lethal side of the infectious disease.

“I think it’s great they’re extending themselves like this,” McClelland said. “I feel safer. I know they’ve cleaned, especially for this. There’s less contact.”

Whole Foods, Safeway, Raley’s, Lucky supermarket and Target are among the numerous outlets now providing designated shopping windows or adapted services to help people over the age of 60, who account for more than two-thirds of coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Wednesday.

Jeff Spackman, manager of the Oliver’s in Cotati, said having a dedicated time slot helps residents feel more at ease and adhere to social distancing rules as they make one of the few permitted trips outside the house during the statewide shelter-in-place order.

“We’re trying to make it as safe as possible so when they walk in the door, they can walk around here and not worry,” Spackman said.

During regular hours, it’s almost impossible to observe the 6-foot social distancing rules urged by public health officials, he said. “In this environment, it works out better,” he said of early shopping hour for seniors.

For Kim Collins of Cotati, that reality has been difficult for her 83-year-old mother-in-law, who was afraid to go out and shop on her own, especially when people were panic-buying. Planning a trip to Oliver’s between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., when customers were being limited, made grocery shopping less stressful.

“I’m just trying to limit my time out and about,” Collins said. “It’s not my favorite thing, to grocery shop anyway.”

Oliver’s and Petaluma Market are reserving the first hour they are open every day, from 6-7 a.m., for seniors and individuals with suppressed immunity systems. So is Whole Foods, which offers a window from 8-9 a.m.

Safeway and Lucky designated 6-9 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for those same groups, as well as pregnant women. Target in Santa Rosa and Petaluma are reserving the first hour on Wednesdays, 8-9 a.m., for at-risk shoppers.

The rapid rise of dedicated shopping hours was an easy and actionable way to help wary customers who are struggling with the anxiety of leaving home, said Jim Agius, Petaluma Market’s president of operations.

While national chains had more resources to make a shift to curbside pickup or partner with Instacart for home delivery, Agius said adjusting hours was a no-brainer for Petaluma Market, which doesn’t have the staff to deliver food to customers’ homes.

“There’s people who are very nervous,” he said. “It was the only thing we could do and put out to the community that we could follow through on that promise.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

Senior shopping at Sonoma County stores

Oliver’s Market: daily from 6-7 a.m.

Whole Foods: daily from 8-9 a.m.

Safeway: Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 a.m.

Lucky Supermarket: Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 a.m.

Target: Wednesday from 8-9 a.m.

Pacific Market: daily from 7-8 a.m. in Santa Rosa; 6-7 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 7-8 a.m. Sunday in Sebastopol

Nugget Market (Sonoma): Tuesday and Thursday from 6-8 a.m., beginning March 24

Walmart: Wednesday from 6-7 a.m., beginning March 24

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