Province asks food retailers to follow 'spirit of' 50-person limit on gatherings 

Whistler stores already had shopper limits in place before provincial guidance

YELP PHOTO - Nesters Market in Whistler.
  • Yelp photo
  • Nesters Market in Whistler.

The B.C. Government this week offered further guidance to retail food and grocery stores on operations during COVID-19, asking retailers to follow the “spirit of” the provincial mandate against public gatherings of more than 50 people.

Deemed an essential service, the 50-person limit does not technically apply to food retailers, but the province has asked that stores continue to limit staff as much as possible.

“This means that, for example, in large grocery stores where it is feasible to have more than 50 people present at one time, it is permissible to do so provided that appropriate physical distancing can be maintained,” read a government release.

In Whistler, grocery stores have already implemented shopper limits, with the overflow of customers required to queue outside. At Fresh St. Market, staff numbers max out at about 35 during peak hours, wrote VP of retail operations Mark McCurdy in an email, who added that the store has responded to customer concerns when there were between 45 and 50 people in the store at a time and physical-distancing guidelines weren’t being adhered to.

“We are looking at reducing [staff] numbers and moving some restocking to after hours,” he added.

At Forecast Coffee in Function Junction, no specific shopper limits have been implemented but customers will be asked to wait outside if groups begin to form.

"Obviously if there are too many people, we will ask people to leave. But at the moment, it’s not been an issue for us so we haven’t felt the need to actually put up a specific limit on how many people in the store," said manager Wallace Barr.

The store has suspended hot food and coffee service, but Barr said an online ordering app is being readied for launch this week.

Some stores have also earmarked special shopping hours for the elderly and at-risk to reduce their potential exposure, and others such as Nesters Market have begun delivering pre-purchased orders for at-risk individuals and those in self-isolation or quarantine.

Despite the panic buying of recent weeks, Jerry Marsh, co-owner of Creekside Market, said most products are back in stock—including toilet paper.

“For toilet paper, we’re back in business as far as that goes. We were out for a while, getting whatever we could, but now in the last four days, we’ve got lots of paper in,” he said, before adding that baking ingredients have proven harder to come by in recent days.

“People have also discovered the lost art of baking. Flour, sugar, yeast and baking powder are all hard to get,” Marsh noted. “It’s very limited. We might order 10 cases of flour and get one.”

Stores have also ramped up sanitation efforts during the crisis. At Fresh St. Market, McCurdy said baskets, carts, pin pads and cash registers are wiped down after every use. The store has also shut down its full-service bakery, deli and meat counters, and switched its bulk department to packaged goods.

Meanwhile, the last day of operations for the time being at The Grocery Store in the village was Saturday, March 28.

"To keep our staff out of harms way we have decided to close for the time being," read a post on the store's Facebook page. "We are grateful to all of our loyal customers for their support through this challenging time."

Pique has requested comment from the store's ownership and will update this story if we hear back.

In appreciation of its frontline staff, a customer set up an employee fund for Creekside Market last week. Marsh said it was still being worked out how the funds would be distributed. Donations can be made by calling the store at 604-938-9301 or emailing jerry@creeksidemarket.com.

“It’s unreal that people would think of that. It’s very appreciated,” Marsh added.

“Our staff is amazing keeping the doors open and keeping people fed.”

Grocery stores and delivery services have implemented special hours or discounts for seniors and other vulnerable populations. Here is a list of the offers currently available:

Creekside Market: Elderly and high-risk individuals can shop from 8 to 9 a.m.

Fresh St. Market: Elderly and high-risk individuals can shop from 7 to 8 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday. The store has recently launched an option to shop over the phone and pick up your groceries curbside at 604-938-2850. Also worth noting that license plate registration is no longer required for the first hour of parking at Marketplace.

Forecast Coffee, Kitchen and Grocer: The store is getting set to launch an online app this week that will offer groceries, meal kits, hot food and coffee. The Function shop has suspended in-store hot food and coffee service for the time being.

Nesters Market: Preferred shopping to customers needing assistance or extra consideration, including seniors and those with disabilities, from 8 to 9 a.m. Nesters is also implementing its Shop & Drop initiative for the elderly and those in self-isolation or quarantine. Email your grocery list to orders@nestersmarket.com and the store will contact you by phone for payment and deliver your groceries to your car in the parking lot or to your home.

Whistler Dine In: The service will deliver orders from 11 participating restaurants, and has introduced a blanket Whistler-wide restaurant delivery charge of $7.50. The fee to deliver alcohol from liquor stores has been reduced to $2.50.

Whistler Grocery Service & Delivery: Free delivery for orders of $100 or more with the coupon code "Free Delivery."

Whistler Grocery Store: Closed as of March 28.

Upper Village Market: Free delivery between 2 and 6 p.m.

Your Independent Grocer: Elderly and high-risk individuals can shop from 7 to 8 a.m. daily.

This story has been updated with additional information since publication.

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