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SF mayor calls for calm — panic at grocery stores and pot dispensaries ensues

SF mayor calls for calm — panic at grocery stores and pot dispensaries ensues
Line at Duc Loi Supermarket. Photo by Lydia Chávez

The announcement of an order that will compel millions of Bay Area residents to stay at home for at least three weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus immediately had the opposite effect on Monday afternoon. 

Grocery stores, pot dispensaries, and pharmacies were packed tight with people hoping to stock up on supplies before the order takes effect at the stroke of midnight Tuesday. It was clear Mayor London Breed’s call for calm had not been heard. 

As of 2 p.m., pot retail stores were not listed among the businesses that the city viewed as “essential,” and lines were longest there. 

“Everything shuts down tomorrow. God knows — a month without pot? It’s a wild time,” said a customer waiting in a line at Shambala on Mission Street. 

The Apothecarium on Market Street had long lines on either side of the entrance. “If you’re going to be confined for three weeks you need to relax,” said Tom Yaussy, as he waited at the end of the line. 

Nearby, Alejandro agreed. He said he was there for the same reasons as everyone else. “We wanted to make it before midnight.”

“This is essential,” said another man nearby.  

Line at the Apothecarium.

The Office of Cannabis said that it is “still figuring out the scope of the mayor’s order” and will update its providers if there is a change. For now, retail cannabis stores are not on the list of essential services. However, medical dispensaries will remain open, according to the mayor’s office. 

List of the essential services that will remain open under the shelter in place policy.

But being on that list hardly mattered. After being reassured by the mayor at 1 p.m. that grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and other essential services would remain open, by 2:30 p.m. those essential services were flooded with people.  

Vanessa, a clerk at Safeway on Market Street, said it was crazy before the announcement, but afterward, “it feels like the whole city is in here.”

The Safeway parking lot was jammed with cars, and inside the line to the cash register was a good 10-minute wait. 

Already, many of the aisles had been picked clean. 

The meat aisle at Safeway.

Magumi, wearing a mask and plastic gloves, waited in the line at Safeway with a full cart. “I feel like they should have closed nationwide,” she said, adding that dental clinic where she works has shut down temporarily.

Maddy and Keley, said they had already stocked up a little, but they foresaw panic buying and decided they should add some bulk foods like bagels to their shelves.  

At Central Drug Store at Mission and Santa Rosa streets in the Excelsior, a woman behind the counter said, “It’s swamped here. Everybody is trying to get their medication. I guess they’re scared and want to make sure their medication doesn’t run out.”

The line at Safeway.

Whether at Safeway, Gus’s, Duc Loi, Bi-Rite or Whole Foods, the lines at the register were long. Only Bi-Rite and Gus’s Market were managing the number of people allowed inside the store at one time. 

“I was one of those people who yesterday was laughing at people standing in line to go grocery shopping,” said Paulo Ramos, who was standing in a line outside of Gus’s market on Treat Avenue. “But today we find ourselves in that same position, trying to stock up — especially with the statement that’s been made.” 

Ramos was one of the couple dozen people just waiting to get in. An employee at the door, who did not want to be interviewed, was letting people in four at time. Inside, a line snaked around aisles — it was hard to know where it began. 

Kristen Guhde was in front, near the cash register, and started shopping because she heard the shelter-in-place announcement. “I do not have enough stuff for three weeks,” she said. “I also have cats so I wanted to make sure I had food for them.” 

Guhde said the coronavirus situation has been feeling “real for a while” but “now it just feels there’s an energy about it that’s a heightened level.” 

The “shelter-in-place” order directs everyone to stay at home and away from other people. It bans non-essential travel — but walks alone or with housemates are allowed, as long as you’re at a six-foot distance from others. All non-essential businesses are to send employees home. 

Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open — along with banks, gas stations, and other “essential” sites —  but, following earlier acts, bars and nightclubs will close and restaurants will be takeout-only. Public transit will run, but it is expected that only necessary trips will be made.

One of the many lines at Whole Foods on Market Street.

For some of the shoppers, cooking was going to be novel experience. “We don’t have any food at home because we just go out to restaurants,” said Christina and Doc, a couple in line at Duc Loi at 18th and Mission streets. They conceded that it could be fun, and already they had made stock over the weekend. 

Josh said he had decided to go out to the store because he thought earlier he would be home for two weeks — now that has been stretched to three, and he needed more supplies.

At Whole Foods on Market Street, Eric said he typically shops for a week at a time so he wanted to stock up. 

Paria, who was in line at Whole Foods with a stuffed cart, said she was fine not running to the store until “my friends freaked me out.” Once that happened, she said, she made a beeline to shop. 

Another woman in line with a full cart at Whole Foods said she was shopping for a friend who had a broken foot. “Now seemed to be the right time,” she said. And in terms of her friend’s foot, she added, “at least she’s not missing anything.”

Alexandra, one of the supervisors at Whole Foods, confirmed that it was “a lot busier” than usual. Also, she said, the day has flipped. It used to be that shoppers came in the late afternoon. Nowadays, they come early to get supplies before the shelves empty out. What items go first? “All of them,” she said. 

Empty shelves at Whole Foods.

Bi-Rite was admitting only 25 shoppers at a time.

Earlier coverage:

COVID-19: Six Bay Area Counties receive “shelter in place” order – will go into effect at 12:01 a.m Tuesday., March 16

COVID-19: Ingleside police station closes for cleaning after officers potentially exposed, March 16

COVID-19 Mission District updates. March 16

COVID-19: Mission District business dipped on Saturday night, and, by Sunday, Flour + Water Pizzeria and others had closed (update 3:19 p.m.), March 15

Covid Updates, Saturday, March 14, 2020En Español

Covid Updates from Friday, March 13, 2020

Parents react to news of school closures, March 12, 2020

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  1. Mark Rabine

    Pot shops are essential. A good couch lock Indica, or a CBD tincture, should be made available to all. Pot shops don’t employ that many people and they can control number of people in the shop (never very many unless people are PANICKED), and they DELIVER!! Close the lounges if you want to keep people apart, but the dispensaries should be open, at least for delivery. Why make a bad time even worse?

  2. Dan

    Not interviewed: those of us who saw all this coming weeks ago and stocked up in dry foods and canned goods then. We’re out there!

    • DJ Ray Ray boogie

      I feel like many people held off stocking up over the past few weeks because they were told not to. Plenty of socials were broadcasting the STOP PANIC BUYING message since late Feb.

    • eh

      Why would you need to be interviewed, so you can dangle your perceived-superiority? GYOFB

      • vIVII

        GYOFB? “Get your own f-ing blog” “Get your own FaceBook” “Gimme your old fat boyfriend”…?

  3. Karl

    Location, location and time. I ran to that Safeway at 8am and it was already like Friday after work and the coffee was almost picked clean (and locked up because of our street bums everywhere) and a local and small pot shop at 9am I was the only customer and they offered me latex gloves. I was at Walgreens at 8:30am and millennials were grabbing basics while a street bum ran out with a box of candy cars that had been on a shelf. I grabbed the next to last paper towels. No Kleenex to be had, But at least I’m high.

  4. Ann

    “no pot for 30 days” someone said!!!!
    Sounds like most of you need substance abuse treatment imo.

    • Dan

      Thank you.

    • eh

      You sound like a person who views pot as purely recreational.

    • Karl

      I bought my first weed a year ago for insomnia. Didn’t work. Don’t really like the high at my age. But the evening news has gotten so stressful that I need a cocktail in one hand and a joint in the other to watch it without getting a tic.

  5. Anon

    Mayors can’t have it both ways…effectively get tens of thousands of people laid off and told they are locked down and then not expect them to panic. Many live in a state of food and financial insecurity and when there leaders do things that look like they are from sci fi movies people respond like the actors in those same movies. The Governor’s more measured response caused less panic in equally large areas like SD, LA, or even Sacramento. In all likelihood, most of us will, at some point, come into contact with this thing. All any of us are trying to do is protect the vulnerable and slowing the impact at the hospitals to give them time.

  6. scotty

    Good job SF! Your all slaves to your government and their dope. Stand in line just like they told you. Bunch of sheep!

    • Sam

      Scotty, love your good ‘Merican Independent streak, or is that your hooded anarchist spirit! Butthead. Why don’t you just French kiss someone with Coronavirus. This is a genuine health crisis and you mock any efforts to contain it. Who made you God? At least Breed is elected and doing what she feels is in the best interests of the public. Even you meathead. Leave your Monday Morning Quarterbacking to sports. Sam

    • Jon

      oh that helps scotty. shout more

  7. Mark Young

    FWIW grocery store and Walgreens were mellow today (Tuesday). Dispensaries should be allowed to operate since it keeps the peace.

  8. John O'Grady

    Make the pot shops to-go only.
    They have security there already.


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