Hurricane Sandy is barreling towards the Northeast Coast and expected to make landfall in New York and New Jersey Monday evening.
In preparation for the massive storm, which is being hailed as the largest in 100 years, residents in Manhattan rushed to Whole Foods stores across the city over the weekend. On Sunday, the firm's seven NYC stores were especially packed with people ahead of the MTA's mass transit closure, which was slated for 7 pm.
Because Whole Foods is the most conveniently-located grocery store to my East Village apartment, I was one of those lucky shoppers who got stuck in the mayhem at the company's Bowery/Houston St. location. The Trader Joe's 14th Street location was out of the question since it is a cab ride away and typically very chaotic on a normal day.
So, with less than four hours until the transit system closure, Whole Foods was my store of choice.
Upon my arrival to the store around 3:30 pm ET Sunday, there was a shortage of carts and shopping baskets as customers flooded the store. And so, my shopping experience began by waiting in line at the exit for the next available cart that was no longer being used.
Once I was finally armed with a shopping cart, I made my way through the jam-packed store with as little elbowing and pushing as possible.
As I traversed up and down the aisles, and in between the serpentine checkout line that wrapped through the store, I was able to find many of the items I was in search of including water, bread, peanut butter and other non-perishable items.
However some shelves were more empty than others, like the water and bread shelves, which were almost empty.
Unlike other storms, with hurricanes "you do get some days to prepare," says Michael Sinatra, public affairs manager for Whole Foods Market's Northeast Region, adding the chain learned many lessons from the 2011 threat from Hurricane Irene.
This time around, Whole Foods was better able to coordinate with its distribution center in Cheshire, Connecticut and requested additional supplies, like water and other non-perishable items, be delivered sooner.
The most annoying part of my experience most certainly resulted from the Whole Foods worker holding the sign reading, "11 items or more."
Over and over and over, with less than a few seconds in between, she shouted, "if you have 11 items or more, the line starts here."
But overall, with as many people as were crowding the aisles of store, the experience was surprising fairly civilized, which is perhaps a testament to the camaraderie we New Yorkers tend to exhibit during times of distress.
On Sunday, many of the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Whole Foods stores closed early due to the transportation shutdown, In an effort to get all its employees home safe told me over the phone.
Stores closed by 6 pm in Manhattan — 5 hours before normal closing time. In New Jersey, locations closed between 8 pm and 9 pm. As for today, that the company has issued a store-wide closure Monday for all its 25 stores in the Northeast Region, Sinatra says.
Whole Foods stores will begin to open in the coming days on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the storm.
At this point, it is too early for the store to determine the sales impact of the storm, says Sinatra.
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