WATERVILLE — It’s dark and the air is crisp just before 6 a.m. Wednesday as older shoppers gather outside the front door of Hannaford at Elm Plaza.

Shortly, the doors open wide and just inside, by the flowers, store manager Toby Suttie greets customers as they file in, careful to distance themselves from others.

“Good morning,” Suttie says cheerfully to each one.

Many shoppers know Suttie, as he has been with Hannaford 30 years, the last four at this store off upper Main Street.

“I grew up in this area and I shopped here growing up,” he said.

It is senior morning at Hannaford, where people 60 and older — as well as those identified as at-risk — are invited to shop 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Things are going very well,” Suttie, 50, said. “The senior days have been received exceptionally well. People are super appreciative. Everyone’s just thankful that we’re doing this.”

The store is gleaming. Produce such as oranges and apples are lined up perfectly on display shelves and there’s a scent of freshness in the air. Workers overnight have cleaned and sanitized the store, including carts and carrying baskets.

Steve and Linda Fotter, both 64, of Benton, push their cart to the checkout moments later, without having to wait for a cashier. They have shopped not only for themselves but also for Steve’s mother, Viviane Fotter, of Belgrade. The cart is about a third full, with items including toilet paper, eggs and bread.

Steve Fotter, a longtime guitar instructor and performer who is well-known throughout central Maine, holds up a package of toilet paper and grins.

“I thought my guitar was the most important thing in my life, but …,” he said.

On a more serious note, he said he is grateful Hannaford, where he has shopped for 32 years, is open early for seniors three days a week.

“Everybody’s polite,” he said. “We know people. It’s a good atmosphere.”

Ray and Sonya Sharkey of Canaan entered the store and headed into the aisles to pick up essentials. The Sharkeys are 68 and 66, respectively. Asked what they planned to buy, Sonya Sharkey smiled.

“Not toilet paper, not hand sanitizer — just bread, eggs, the usual,” she said, adding that she appreciates Hannaford’s program for seniors.

“I’ve got asthma, so to me, it’s good to have a bit less traffic around me,” she said.

Tami Clark, 69, of Rome, was out of the house for the first time in two weeks, as she has been trying to heed the recommendations of health experts and isolate. She said she is thrilled Hannaford is opening its doors early for seniors three times a week.

“I actually thanked one of the gentlemen down in produce,” Clark said. “I said, ‘Thank you very much for doing this.’ I think this is fantastic what they’ve done.”

Wearing blue plastic gloves, Clark said she usually puts on makeup before she goes out in public, but got ready as quickly as possible early Wednesday — even deciding to wear flip flops.

“That was the quickest thing to slide on my feet,” she said.

Early morning shopper Tami Clark, 69, selects produce while shopping with others age 60 and older Wednesday at Hannaford Supermarket & Pharmacy in Waterville. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the store opened at 6 a.m. to cater to older and at-risk shoppers. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Having driven about 25 miles from her Rome home to Hannaford, Clark picked up bread, fresh vegetables, water and lots of canned fruit.

“I’ve always shopped here,” she said. “I lived in Benton for years and I’ve been in Rome four years. I’m going over to Walmart next to pick up a gift card for a cancer patient. I have a nonprofit that helps Maine cancer patients, L.N. Clark Inspiration Network.”

Suttie, the store manager, said not only did seniors request that Hannaford designate a special time for them to shop, but younger shoppers concerned about seniors also asked.

“That was pretty impressive,” he said. “They were the ones driving it. It shows how everyone cares about seniors.”

A steady stream of customers filed in as the sun started to rise. Suttie said the senior hours are temporary, but Hannaford will continue as long as needed. Employees, whom he calls “associates,” are happy seniors can come and shop, uninterrupted, and maintain social distance, he said.

The first day of the program was Tuesday and even though it had snowed several inches overnight, many arrived to shop, according to Suttie.

“I want to say thank you to the community for allowing seniors space to come here,” Suttie said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is make sure items they are looking for are stocked — toilet paper, cleaning supplies. The supply chain is very healthy. Demand for items is great. We’re trying to urge people to come in and go back to normal shopping. If we do that, everyone will have the opportunity to get what they need.”

Suttie said customers have been “fantastic” during unprecedented times. Store employees, also fearful for themselves and their loved ones, fill a vital need and are extremely dedicated, according to Suttie.

“The rock stars are my associates,” he said. “I look up to them every day.”

 

SHAW’S IMPLEMENTS NEW FEATURES

Shaw’s Supermarket also has set times for seniors and those at risk to shop, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Contacted Wednesday, Teresa Edington, external communication and community relations manager for Shaw’s Supermarket and Star Market, issued the following statement:

“As we all continue to navigate through this public health crisis together, Shaw’s and Star Market are continuing to do everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our customers, our communities, and our associates, and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications, and other essential goods they need at this critical time.”

Shaw’s has implemented several practices to ensure the safety of shoppers and employees in their stores, according to the statement.

Among them is the installation of Plexiglass in checkout lanes that are expected to be in place by the end of the week as a protective barrier between customers and cashiers, regular reminders to follow CDC guidelines on hand washing and surface cleaning, and enhanced measures to disinfect departments, restrooms and high-touch points throughout the day with a deep clean at the end of the day.

Adjusted store hours that have been posted for a week include regular hours 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday through Saturday and 7 to 9 a.m. hours every Tuesday and Thursday for senior residents and other at-risk members of the community. Check local store hours at www.shaws.com.

Posters have also been placed around stores to remind patrons to practice social distancing, remaining 6 feet apart or about two shopping cart lengths from each other.

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