Addressing a shopper on Monday afternoon, Debbie West replied, “We have no more to put out, ma’am. This is it.”
West, an assistant manager of Family Dollar in Norlina, had grown used to saying it by then. The rush on cleaning supplies and essentials picked up last week and flew into overdrive by the weekend amid the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 6,000 lives worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of U.S. deaths grew to 75 by Tuesday, with more than 4,200 cases, 40 of which are in North Carolina.
No deaths have been reported in the North Carolina, but what originated in Central China more than two months ago and grew into a global pandemic is now affecting the lives of Warren County residents.
Daily life is changing locally. Schools are closed, sports are suspended, club meetings and fundraisers are postponed, churches have had to cancel or alter their worship services, and restaurants feel the effects of an increasingly apprehensive citizenry while grocery and variety store employees like West have been inundated with customers.
“We’re down to hardly nothing in toilet paper,” West said Monday. “I do have some bleach that we just got in today. We have no Lysol, no hand sanitizer, no alcohol. We’re just about out of everything pertaining to cleaning supplies.”
West said last Friday customers were snagging essentials before they could be shelved, not long after coming off a truck. A new truckload wasn’t expected until this Friday.
On Sunday, the county declared a state of emergency including the towns of Macon and Norlina. Warrenton followed suit on Monday as the White House advised Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people.
“As county manager, my primary concern is that we can continue providing services and operating county government,” County Manager Vincent Jones said, “with as little disruption to our residents as possible. We have to balance that with making sure we take appropriate measures to keep our employees safe as well.”
On Friday, Warrenton Town Administrator Robert Davie offered common sense advice for people visiting town hall, but by Monday, visits to the building had been restricted, illustrating how fluid the local government response has needed to be as state guidelines or orders have steadily evolved.
“Most people that I’ve talked to aren’t really scared,” Rachel Aycock, owner of Rachel’s Whistle Stop restaurant in Norlina said. “They’re just kind of in shock of everybody going and getting everything. They’re complaining that there’s nothing at the grocery stores. That’s why they came to eat with me today.”
She said on Monday Whistle Stop had started encouraging curbside pickup, a day before Gov. Roy Cooper ordered restaurants and bars to close dining rooms, effective Tuesday evening.
In Warrenton, Drip Coffee and Market had already shifted on Monday to call-in orders, take-out service rather than dine-in, and was accepting only debit or credit card payments rather than cash in order to reduce the spread of germs. Nearly all of its tables were removed, with a couple outside for seating in the fresh air.
Drip and Hardware Café next door had seen a reduction in business the week before. Aaron Ayscue, owner of Hardware Café, said the missing customers were regulars in the high risk category for contracting COVID-19, senior citizens, who are being encouraged to limit their social interactions.
On the other side of Warren County, establishments like Lake Gaston Pizza and Lake Gaston Coffee Company experienced a surge in customers last week.
“We had a booming weekend with a great turnout,” said Pete Richardson at Lake Gaston Pizza. “Business was up until Monday, then it was a drastic drop off.”
“Honestly, we’re up from last week,” said Jason Shearin of Lake Gaston Coffee. “I think it’s because everything is closing in other places and coming to the lake. Rental houses are all full, so people are either coming to the lake in their own houses or renting them out.”
Lake Gaston Coffee is operating at the regular hours, drive through and pick-up only. Shearin said that coffee is also for sale and ships from his online store.
Richardson agreed with Shearin, that the lake has been picking up, and there are more people here. Lake Gaston Pizza also closed its dining room and is offering to-go and curbside pickup.
Paul Owens at Ace Hardware has also seen an influx in customers recently and said it is business as usual.
“The craziest thing is, this is uncharted territory for everyone in business,” Owens said. “The best thing I know to do is keep operating the way we normally would.
Owens also said that Ace Hardware is expanding its delivery radius from five to 15 miles.
“Anybody that’s in the lake area that needs something, we will deliver it if we can and as fast as we can. It might not be the same day, though,” he said.
Not all lake area businesses are feeling the same boom. According to Erica Perez at Lake Gaston Dog Boarding, “We’ve had almost all of our boarding reservations cancel.”
The crew at Lake Gaston Dog Boarding is using some of their time now to take care of spring cleaning and get ready for the season, but expect to cut hours for some of their employees starting next week.
“We have so many people coming for daycare that it’s really helping us out and keeping us going,” said Perez.
“If it wasn’t for our patrons and the community supporting us in these trying times, we wouldn’t be here,” Richardson said. “It’s important to support mom and pop shops.”