Street view of the Canopy Street Market, a local grocery story, entrance in Lincoln, Nebraska. Exterior photo of the storefront on a partly cloudy day. The store remains active despite the ongoing coronavirus.
Canopy Street Market Store Front in Lincoln, Nebraksa.

Amidst the coronavirus, grocery stores have remained open and, for the most part, stocked with supplies to be safely purchased.

Providing for Local Populations during the Coronavirus

Jill Moline of Imperial owns four grocery stores in Nebraska and Colorado. Moline’s Nebraska stores are Canopy Street Market in the Haymarket area of Lincoln, a city of 244,800 people, and Imperial Super Foods in Imperial, a town of 2,096 people. Moline’s stores have adapted to guidelines and finding suppliers during a pandemic for both large and small towns.

“We went from having our busiest days of 600-700 people, up to as busy as 1000 people in one day visiting my stores in Imperial and the one out in Wray, Colorado,” Moline said. “We were blown out of the water with people coming from bigger towns and cities to get products.”

The uptake in sales since the start of the pandemic caused her to find new ways to get food and cleaning supplies fast enough to keep her shelves stocked.

Store owner Warren Thomas said his store, Grand Central York, also experienced shortages from March to May. Being one of two grocery stores in York, Nebraska, Grand Central York was responsible for supplying at least half of the 7,802 people in town with their grocery needs.

Thomas and Moline typically received food and supplies from Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) in Norfolk. As supplies became limited, each store elected to order larger bulks for eggs, sanitary products, and other various items. But even these supplies would eventually become limited for the local grocers.

“Once we were out of something, we were just out until could get more from AWG. Or we went to the Cisco in Lincoln if we really needed to,” Thomas said, leaving only the limited local suppliers or electing to remain out of stock as options.

Moline experienced the same difficulties in Imperial. The closest supplier to Imperial Super Foods was a flour mill 20-minutes away from town and the next major supplier being AWG in Norfolk.

“We had shortages with many products like deli and toilet paper so we had to outsource the majority of things with other suppliers,” said Thomas. 

New Suppliers and New Customers

Moline’s experience in Lincoln contrasted the difficulties in Imperial and York. Moline was able to find more local suppliers for Canopy Street Market’s stock as suppliers were in search of open businesses. Moline purchased eggs, hamburgers, and produce items from March 2020 to as recently as August 2020, when many restaurants were closed.

“The suppliers who were typically in charge of supplying the restaurants started doing more business with us as the restaurants were closing and staying shut,” Moline said.

Due to the suppliers in Lincoln needing to find new places to vend to, Canopy Street Market was able to find the supplies they needed. Canopy Street Market, instead, ran into the issue of not having enough customers to purchase the supplies.

“We are heavily dependent on walk-up traffic and people who work in the area, such as Hudl, restaurants, and construction workers,” Moline said. “With everyone moving back home and no longer stopping for groceries on their way back from work, we saw a lot of our sales go down in Lincoln.”

Similar to the events in York and Imperial, customers found their way to local grocers to purchase the limited supplies.

“We’ve really appreciated the people that discovered our market during the pandemic and felt that it was well stocked and cleaned,” Moline said. Her remark comes in response to the Lincolnites searching for the limited supplies slightly filling the missing gap of customers. 

In all cities, large and small, a small business adapts to fulfill the customers’ wants and needs. Moline, an advocate for local businesses, suggested finding a local grocer instead of a big-name chain store.

“We have our niche and are here to serve our customers,” Thomas said.

Senior Broadcasting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from Lincoln, Nebraska. Passionate about education, singing, and watching sports.