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Palm Coast Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 2 weeks ago

Behind the scenes: stocking shelves as Hurricane Dorian's approach sends Publix into overdrive

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A firsthand look from a Palm Coast Observer staff writer.
by: Joey Pellegrino Staff Writer

Updated 7:55 p.m. Aug. 30

Everyone was coming for the water bottles, as if Hurricane Dorian isn't bringing enough water for everybody.

I work at Publix as a shelf-stocker, and I also happen to be a new staff writer at the Palm Coast Observer, so my editor talked me into writing about my experience pre-hurricane. 

You might have thought Dorian had already flattened the beaches and salted the Intracoastal, the way customers swarmed Belle Terre Crossings — like so many people dog-paddling away from a shipwreck. My coworker Kyle was pacing the front of the store, in front of the man-high stacks of Publix water bottles in packs of 24.

Limit of four gallons or two cases, he told me. He had been put in charge of enforcing the limit on gallons of water.

If any such limit had been placed on the other pre-storm scramble necessities — soup, beans, bread, milk, batteries, fish, ice — I couldn’t tell, because they fled the shelves so quickly we may as well have punted them over the aisles directly to the checkout lanes.

The ordinary rhythms of retail life were thrown into chaos by Dorian’s whirl across the Atlantic to our doorstep, along with those of Floridian life generally. Orderliness became an impossibility, speed a joke. Shelf organization was a settled matter: empty shelves are pristine. We were instructed to “touch up” the perimeter of the aisles as a desperate nod to our normal aesthetic-minded processes, but no more.

The usual questions were swiftly answered:

“Where can I find the peanut butter?”

Aisle 17, if you’re fast.

“Can you check if you have more of this in the back?”

We don’t.

“Is there any more wa—"

Nope, should’ve come before 5.

Everyone available to work was doing so, until one coworker quit halfway through his shift, leaving for lunch never to return. Nothing could be completed, as anything that did not disappear as soon as it left our hands wasn’t worth worrying about, but the necessities and the sale items were mostly gone before sundown. We were left to scurry about on our own, most managers having left or being too busy in their respective departments to marshal the restless grocery department toward any one task.

The arrival of trucks carrying milk and an emergency shipment of towering pallets of ice, stacked up until the freezer became a small glacier in its own right, broke the monotony of the night, until we dragged the few remaining pallets of sale out of the barren backroom and emptied them onto the shelves around 8, before the store was even closed.

The customers didn’t care; there was a Category 4 worry occupying their minds’ radars.

We were allowed to leave, mercifully, at 11 p.m., the scheduled end of our shifts, for lack of anything to do that the night crew wouldn’t be around to take care of.

I’ll be back with them every day until Monday, Landfall Day, one of a few green-shirted beavers dragging the logs into place as the river rises up around our dam.

Every clerk for himself, and Dorian take the hindmost.

Editor's Note: The story was corrected to show that Publix had a limit of four gallons or two cases. The numbers were reversed in the previous version.

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