Spencer Whittington was out early Tuesday, wearing a jacket against the morning chill as he steered his Ford pickup truck into the parking lot of Bowling Green’s Meijer grocery store.

The 83-year-old joined about three dozen other seniors – many wearing masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus microbe that has held the nation hostage in recent days – who were out at 7 a.m. to take advantage of the shopping time set aside by Meijer for the Medicare-age crowd.

The Michigan-based chain has joined a number of grocery stores, convenience stores and retail outlets that have altered their schedules to accommodate seniors during the state of emergency brought about by the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 500,000 people worldwide.

Meijer, which normally operates around the clock, limited its hours to 8 a.m. through 10 p.m. in response to the pandemic, and it set aside the 7 to 8 a.m. hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those age 65 and over.

Whittington and some other seniors who were out early Tuesday say the effort to accommodate them is welcome.

“If you want to get up this early, it’s good,” said Whittington, who stocked up on cereal and other food items.

He said the early shopping time is working well, except for the evidence that some people are hoarding items.

“Things like toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex are in short supply,” Whittington said. “And there were a lot of empty shelves in the frozen foods section.”

“Some things were running short,” echoed Dan Westphal, a 68-year-old who was making his first seniors-only visit to Meijer.

Westphal found plenty of groceries Tuesday, but he said running low on food wasn’t his top concern these days.

“It’s scary because a lot of people have been stirred up more than they need to be,” he said. “Probably my worst fear is the damage this is doing to the economy. I hope it doesn’t get real bad here, and I hope it doesn’t overtax our health care system.”

One retired health care worker, Nancy Bromer, was out at Meijer on Tuesday and said she might also visit Kroger, which has announced it’s catering to seniors and other high-risk persons from 7 to 8 a.m. Monday through Thursday.

“We appreciate the stores doing this,” said the 70-year-old Bromer, who was wearing a mask to lessen the chance of being exposed to the virus. “We’re not panicked, but we are trying to stay safe.”

Stores such as Walmart, Walgreens and Target are responding to the pandemic either by shortening their hours to allow more time for cleaning or setting aside time for seniors to shop.

Dollar General, the convenience store chain founded in Scottsville and now based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., has announced that it is dedicating the 8 to 9 a.m. hour each day for senior shoppers.

“We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices,” Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO, said in a news release. “During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities.”

As she searched the shelves at Meijer this week, Bromer tried to put the pandemic and resulting state of emergency in perspective.

“It’s nothing we have control over,” she said. “We just need to trust the Lord to get us through it.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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