Stores struggling to maintain inventory amid coronavirus stockpiling

Empty shelves of cleaning products at a Downtown Duane Reade.
Photo by Meg Capone

Pharmacy staff are struggling to keep shelves stocked with cleaning supplies, masks, and cold medication as locals stockpile supplies in the wake of New York City’s first coronavirus diagnosis. 

“We just can’t seem to get stuff on the shelf fast enough and people are getting upset,” said an employee at a Park Slope Rite Aid located on Flatbush Avenue between Fifth And Sixth Streets, who only gave her name as Catalina. 

Staff reported stockpiling at all seven stores surveyed by Brooklyn Paper in Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, with customers making a b-line for cleaning and healthcare products including Lysol, hand sanitizer, bottled water, wet wipes, face masks, gloves and cold and flu medication.

Stores had been selling more than their usual share of those products in the months since the coronavirus began spreading out of Wuhan, China, but locals have been grabbing supplies by the arm full since the NYC case was diagnosed in Manhattan Sunday, Catalina said. 

“When people come in here they take a lot—like 20 mini hand sanitizers at a time–and that’s why we run out so fast,” she said. 

Staff at a Duane Reade located on Fulton Street near Jay Street have resorted to rationing items in a bid to keep certain products in stock and ensure that all customers can get at least some of what they need.

“Our issue is people who are coming in and buying in bulk. We’ve been rationing but things still go so quickly we’re forced to restock,” said a manager there, who gave his name as Ken, “I just feel like it’s not fair that people are hogging stuff and leaving others with nothing.” 

Empty shelves of cleaning supplies at Downtown Rite AidPhoto by Meg Capone

Another Downtown Duane Reade located on Court Street near Montague Street accepted a shipment of over 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer on Friday — only to completely sell out before Monday morning, according to the drug store manager.

“Sometimes we run out in hours,” said Ken, “I recommend coming in before noon or else there will probably be nothing left.” 

In addition to cleaning and medical supplies, customers are coming into drug stores seeking flu shots in unusually high number, according to the supervising pharmacist at the Fulton Street Duane Reade. 

And as the stockpiling leads to empty shelves, patrons turned their frustration over the lack of supplies and growing threat of the coronavirus on staff. 

“Stores need to be doing better,”said one customer at the Jerolemon Street Rite Aid near Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, who gave her name as Sariah. “This isn’t a joke anymore.”