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Illinois Retailers To Customers: Don’t Panic Buy

Mike Smith
NPR Illinois 91.9 FM
Empty shelves at a Walmart in Springfield on Mar 12

As widespread disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the country, Illinois retailers are asking residents not to buy more supplies than they need.

Videos and photos distributed on social media have shown empty store shelves and long lines as residents attempt to buy several week’s worth of food and other essentials. Store owners, meanwhile, have had to increase working hours to keep up with demand.

Rob Karr, who represents some 23,000 stores as president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, known as IRMA, urged calm.

“Don’t buy for three weeks. There’s no reason or cause for concern with that,” he said. “No one’s shuttering grocery stores. No one’s cutting off access to food.”

Normally, places like grocery stores have enough stock to sell to a given area, and then receive regular deliveries to keep up that stock. But with concerns over coronavirus disease, some customers have been buying more and hoarding items like food, cleaning supplies, even toilet paper — and stores just can’t keep up.

“There is nothing about this crisis that requires that response,” Karr said. “They’re [customers] putting an unnecessary strain on the supply chain.”

The IRMA president explained some local governments have lifted restrictions on truck deliveries so more products can get to stores quickly. Some have even lifted weight limits to allow more supplies than usual to stream in.

While stores work to restock, retailers are urging customers to continue to purchase in the quantities they normally would.

“All you have to do is be smart when you go shopping: maintain a little bit of social distance, wash your hands. [Those are] things you should do everyday,” Karr said.

Separately, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement Tuesday his office has received at least 100 complaints in recent days accusing retailers of price gouging on health products like hand sanitizer.

Raoul said the office is coordinating with groups like IRMA to identify errant stores, and would use its authority to “stop unfair pricing,” citing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s earlier executive order banning the practice.

“Now more than ever, it is crucial to put people before profits,” Raoul said.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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