Grocery stores across northern Santa Barbara County are providing special shopping services and hours to accommodate the elderly and those at high risk for the coronavirus including delivery, online ordering, drive-up and go services, and placing limits on the number of shoppers in the store at one time.

At Albertsons in Buellton, in addition to offering grocery delivery services, the store is open daily from 6 to 8 a.m. for elderly and high-risk customers. 

"Although we really can't enforce it," one employee said, referring to shoppers who don't fall into the at-risk category, "it's just common courtesy." 

New Frontiers Natural Marketplace in Solvang has also adjusted its hours of operation.

Store team leader Stephen Dominguez said the store opens daily at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, for its at-risk customer base while following strict federal and county guidlines that require higher standards of cleanliness.

"Our amazing customers are concerned about our welfare as well as their own," said Dominguez. "They’re very supportive of us providing service. It puts everyone at ease when the customers and the team members are both concerned about each other."

Dominguez said that although the food supply remains strong, distribution is a struggle.

"We’re ordering what our customers want and need, but a lot of the products are on allocation, meaning we don’t get our full order because they’re having to spread it out among the stores. I would urge everyone to be patient," Dominguez said.

A crew member at Trader Joe's in Santa Maria who asked not to be named, said there are no special shopping hours offered for at-risk customers, but that customers in the store are being limited to 30 or fewer at a time.

"We thought it would be irresponsible to go against that (state) order and say, "Why don't you all come shopping at this time?"'

She said the store is handing out sanitizing wipes to customers as they enter and constantly disinfecting surfaces and baskets to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We are also limiting it to 30 customers or less at a time – and no more than 50 people in the store at any given time, which includes staff," she said. 

FoodMaxx, located on South Broadway in Santa Maria, has set aside three hours twice a week for elderly shoppers.

Every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 a.m., the store will be open for at-risk customers, said Grocery Manager Chito Armenta.

"We're also following guidelines to offer customers sanitizing wipes for their shopping carts. We're constantly cleaning bathrooms and have started wearing gloves," he said.

What used to be 24-hour shopping is now only open until 10 p.m. due to the large volume of freight coming in each day, Armenta said. That gives the store additional time to replenish shelves that are picked over in a matter of hours upon the store's opening.

"We also began limiting customers to one 24-pack of water and one 12-roll per person," he said. "I'm really proud of our team, and our customers who have been appreciative and patient."

A grocery delivery service is also offered through FoodMaxx, run by a third-party contractor.

In Lompoc, Lompoc Grocery Outlet store manager and wine department head Monica Good said that although there aren't special hours reserved for at-risk customers, the store is helping in other ways.

"I know [the owners] started a new program and are reaching out to elderly and those who can't get to the store often, to help them with their grocery shopping," said Good. "They can call ahead of time and ring it up beforehand and we can run it out to their car." 

Given the shortage of toilet paper and water, she said seniors can call ahead to receive a needed supply of both products that are reserved for their high-risk customers. The store's hours of operation remain 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Walmart Supercenter in Lompoc posted notices around the store and online, announcing that due to the federally declared state of emergency, the store is observing limited hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. No special hours are allocated for at-risk shopping, however online shopping and order ahead and curbside pick-up are available. 

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.