East Toronto grocery stores deal with surge of customers amidst fears of COVID-19’s impact

The Rocca's No Frills on Coxwell Avenue was busy on the morning of Friday, March 13. The night before, as was the case with other grocery stores in the city, there was a surge of customers resulting in long lines as shoppers stocked up amid fears surrounding the COVID-19 virus. Photo by Alan Shackleton.


As No Frills owner John Rocca busily re-stocked bananas in the produce section on Friday, March 13, morning, he sighed when asked by a reporter about how busy the store had been the day before as shoppers stocked up in what was a near-panic of buying.

“It was super busy,” he said of Thursday, March 12, night as the line-up of customers into his Coxwell Avenue and Gerrard Street East store had gone all the way into the parking lot.

“We are doing our best to serve our customers,” Rocca said.

“We have great staff and they have been troopers. I’m so proud of them and the service they have given under these circumstances.”

The run on the Coxwell No Frills was repeated at grocery stores cross the city and province yesterday as shoppers, seemingly in a panic at the thought they might have to go into 14-days of self-isolation due to fears of the spreading COVID-19 virus, stocked up on canned goods, rice, pasta and especially toilet paper.

The uneasiness of shoppers was spurred by an extraordinary day of news on Thursday which saw a late-afternoon announcement by the Province of Ontario that schools would be closed for the next three weeks to help fight the spread of the virus. That announcement came on the heels of pro sports leagues across North America saying their seasons would be suspended immediately.

Rocca did not want to comment on the politics of the COVID-19 response by governments or what he thought of the “panic” among customers. “We’re dealing with it,” he said as continued to unload produce.

On Friday morning his store was busy, with the parking lot almost full and a steady stream of customers heading in and out, but it was not packed.

Outside, customers told Beach Metro News they were trying not to be greedy when they shopped but were concerned about the impacts of having to be self-sufficient if they had to go into isolation because of the virus.

“We’ve been told to be prepared,” said one woman who had stopped at Rocca’s after visiting two other No Frills earlier in the morning in an unsuccessful search for toilet paper.

“This is my third No Frills this morning looking for toilet paper,” she said. “I’m okay and I only need one package for my cousin.”

Prior to the woman entering the store other customers were exiting with toilet paper, but it was unclear how long that would last.

“I guess we need to be ready for two weeks, if necessary, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Another customer, who had just come out of the store with a modest-sized load of groceries after shopping with her son, said she was trying to buy only necessities.

“I saw photos of empty shelves online at the Loblaws at Leslie and Lakeshore, and thought I’d better come out,” she said. “I’m trying to be conservative and make sure there’s enough for everybody, so we’re only getting what we really need.”

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