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No end of coronavirus panic-buying in sight in Las Vegas

Paula Griesbach had a battle plan as she headed Monday afternoon into the Cardenas Market at Tropicana Avenue and Mountain Vista Street. Fed up with shortages caused by grocery hoarding — “It’s ridiculous!” she fumed — she thought she had it figured out.

“I’ve been going to 99 Cents (Only) stores, and to Mexican markets,” she said. “They seem to have food. I’ve been going to the little places.”

But alas, the supply at Cardenas wasn’t any better than at most supermarkets in the valley, with empty produce bins and shelves throughout the store.

Astrid Catanescu said she had come for meat and veggies and hadn’t found much of either. Her mother, Virginia, was downright angry, but for a slightly different reason. She was upset by what she saw as shoppers gaming the system, handing off the store’s take-a-number tabs to friends and family so that people who were behind her in line got the dwindling supplies she didn’t.

At a Trader Joe’s in Henderson, a checkout clerk said the only way to get eggs was to arrive before 9:15 a.m. (the store opens at 9 a.m.). At the Vons at Pecos Road and Windmill Lane, an employee stacking tomatoes on a produce display said he couldn’t remember the store ever running out of bananas and potatoes, but it had now.

And at Albertsons at Vegas and Buffalo drives, Ronaldo, the meat manager, said he was having trouble keeping product in his refrigerators.

“Watch, that’s going to be gone in minutes,” he said as he observed a worker roll a dolly of ground beef onto the sales floor.

“It’s stressful,” he said. “We have personal lives, too. And we’re working extra hours by choice.”

To deal with the panic-buying and resulting need to restock frequently, stores around the valley have been cutting hours the stores are open so their employees have a chance to catch up. Smith’s announced Monday that it was hiring immediately to try to cope with the problem.

But while empty shelves, crowded aisles and long checkout queues have become the norm, at least one store seemed to have gotten it right.

The WinCo at 7501 W. Washington Ave. opened a week ago. To deal with the hordes, the store is implementing crowd control, with about 30 people permitted into the store every 10 minutes. The metered entry means customers inside the store can maintain a reasonable distance from each other and the checkout staff isn’t as overwhelmed.

“We tried to shop Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; the line (for the registers) went all the way back there,” says Floyd Roach, as he pointed about two-thirds down the grocery store’s aisle.

The 24-hour store is Jessica Conti’s first job.

“I’m corralling carts, but there aren’t that many to corral into the lane because people keep taking them before I can get it,” the 18-year-old said. Monday’s lines at the register averaged about three or four families each.

Virginia Rodriguez waited in the outside queue only about five minutes before being allowed to shop.

“We’re not going crazy, just buying what we need,” she said. “We’re doubling up, though, so we don’t need to go through this again.”

To ensure customers lined up to enter the store, Connor, a security guard, patrolled the exit. A few frustrated customers tried to ask him for entrance or to sneak past him.

“Three hundred people were lined up at 5 a.m.,” said Connor, who works security for a WinCo in Phoenix and is in town to help the new store open. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Nina Lopez, a deli department manager, also is in from out of town to help train employees. She said that, while she was expecting the crowds that usually accompany a grand opening, she wasn’t prepared for this.

“We’re mostly trying to make the displays look more full than they are,” she said, rearranging a refrigerator half-full of sausages and steaks.

Amid the waves of frustrated shoppers, though, at least a few were maintaining a sense of humor.

“Well,” said one customer as he eyed a nearly empty snack display at Trader Joe’s. “At least it makes the decision a lot easier.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter. Contact Janna Karel at jkarel @reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3835. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

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