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Older Customers Get Special Shopping Hours During A Viral Age03:39
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A woman wears a face mask shopping at Target in Watertown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A woman wears a face mask shopping at Target in Watertown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several supermarket chains, including Shaws, Star Market, Price Chopper and Whole Foods, are reserving special early morning hours exclusively for seniors and other shoppers who are at greater risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus.

Shaw’s and Star Market locations are opening every Tuesday and Thursdays 7–9 a.m. for customers over 60.

Whole Foods Market locations will open one hour early for vulnerable shoppers before opening to the general public.

And every Wednesday morning, Target will dedicate the first hour of their business day to elderly customers and those it calls"vulnerable guests" with underlying health concerns.

On the first day of the new hours, Matt Gerety, store manager of the Watertown Mall's Target, handed out free coffee to the 30 or so customers who waited for the store to open. Gerety said the location is one of the largest volume stores in New England.

"You know, we on average have about 100 to 150 people outside before the store open," he said. "This morning it was a little bit fewer, and I think it was helpful for the media release to let everyone know elderly and at-risk guests were expected to shop first."

Inside, Jack Callinan was among the first to enter the store. Workers stocking shelves outnumbered customers. Callinan is retired and only found out about the store's special hours just before he began shopping for milk, jelly and toiled paper. He arrived early, fearful the store would run out.

"My question is, how do your enforce that (early hours for seniors)?" he asked.

There were small notices advising customers of the new coronavirus policy, but they were located near cashiers. Many people who appeared younger than the "vulnerable guest" age, as Target refers to them in a news release, were in line outside.

Notices at each Target register alert shoppers about the change in hours. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Notices at each Target register alert shoppers about the change in hours. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

David Mcilroy of Cambridge was unaware of Target's special shopping hour. The software engineer was clearly not over 60 but welcomed the change.

"Oh, I didn't know. That's good that they're doing that," he said.

Dennis Garcia of Cambridge was pushing his mother Gloria around in a special shopping cart. They had gone shopping at the Target store the day before but decided to return to take advantage of the special hour. They were able to buy a bottle of a hand sanitizer, which had been put on shelves overnight. A few minutes after the store opened, every bottle had been snapped up.

Fred Josey of Newton said he knew about the early shopping hour and stopped by Target after dropping his daughter off at work. His cart contained all the basics: a deep fryer, cooking oil and yams.

"Well, I have grandkids. They're teenagers," he said, "and you know how they eat."

By 8:30 a.m., half an hour after opening, Target had begun enforcing the age limit. Laura Villa waited patiently. The 58-year-old resident of Watertown had to laugh.

"Yeah, I told my daughter, 'I'm so young,' " she said.

Target in Watertown opens its doors Wednesday morning for a special shopping hour to allow seniors and people with compromised immune systems to shop exclusively. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Target in Watertown opens its doors Wednesday morning for a special shopping hour to allow seniors and people with compromised immune systems to shop exclusively. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on March 18, 2020.

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Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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