One of a series of features on how Du Quoin businesses are faring in the COVID-19 crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a nice little bump in business for the Save A Lot discount grocery store in the SouthTowne Shopping Center in Du Quoin.
Shoppers who had never been inside the 2½-year-old small grocer are now discovering its size makes for easy navigation, says Manager Jessica Ralston.
"The pandemic has brought a lot of new faces in," Ralston said. "It's easier to find things here, where there aren't 17 aisles of groceries but four or five." She said that's particularly true of older men, who seem relieved to not have to memorize the contents of endless aisles.
Shoppers are also driven to Save A Lot because in these times, with employment getting scarcer by the week, discount groceries are necessary for many people.
The downside of being popular with shoppers is how hard it has gotten to restock the shelves. Food deliveries are unreliable, and so Save A Lot has quit advertising -- no longer confident it can get the foods in stock that it wants to advertise. Rice and macaroni -- things kids will eat -- is hard to keep on the shelves, Ralston said.
And meat, while still available, has gotten very expensive, not what Ralston likes to see.
"It's like $5-something a pound for burgers," she said.
Ralston said restocking has gotten so difficult she has trouble getting food to give to the local food pantries in Du Quoin. To compensate, her store is putting together donation bags of food that shoppers can buy for $5.99. Once bought, the bags are set aside for the food pantries.
"People are buying them," she said, a testament to the generosity of Du Quoin residents.
Every worker in Save A Lot wears a mask while on duty. They were all made by Courtney Holland, wife of store owner Matt Holland.
And shoppers? "We prefer customers wear masks, but they aren't going to get escorted out if they don't," Ralston said. So far the store has been COVID-free; no employees have contracted the virus.
Save A Lot opens at 8 a.m. seven days a week for seniors; the general public is allowed in at 9 a.m.
Before the pandemic, the store would close at 7:30 p.m. but now it closes at 7 p.m. to give employees more time to do a thorough disinfecting of the carts, baskets and refrigerator doors -- any place touched by the public.
Ralston has been with the Du Quoin Save A Lot since the beginning. She came to Du Quoin from managing another Save A Lot in Missouri, and now lives here, too.
She likes living here, and is optimistic her store will continue to see the uptick in customers after the pandemic.
"I think at least some of them will stick around," she says