Up and down the aisles of the Walmart Supercenter on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort, employees try to move quickly and stock products as customers scramble in the mad dash that is Saturday afternoon grocery shopping.
Although the shelves are not nearly as bare as they were Tuesday night, there’s still a few products that were running out at 1:30 p.m. Saturday: bacon, meats, sliced cheese, cottage cheese, some brands of butter and milk, frozen pizzas and frozen vegetables.
Like everyone in Beaufort County, grocery stores like Walmart are trying to get back to normal, but there’s no denying that Hurricane Matthew has caused more damage than flooding and downed trees: The storm affected local grocers and their customers.
For Erica Mann, a nurse, Saturday was the first time she had ventured out to the grocery store after her family of five evacuated an hour away from Beaufort. She said she noticed that milk, butter, cheese and even salad dressing products were in low supply or completely out of stock.
“I’ve never had a problem finding anything till today,” she said.
Mann said she shops at Walmart weekly to feed her sons and lost at least $200 worth of food during power outages related to the storm. She said planned on stopping by the BiLo on Parris Island Gateway to get more items she needs.
When the power went out at Kamri Simmons’ home in Port Royal, where her family stayed to wait out the storm, her daughter was frustrated and didn’t understand why she couldn’t watch television. But for Simmons, there was frustration elsewhere: having to throw out food that cost her somewhere between $200 and $300.
She and her family fed themselves at Panda Chinese Restaurant, Red Rooster Cafe and Golden Corral in Beaufort while waiting for the power to come back on and things to return to normal.
“It’s hurting me,” she said about tossing out spoiled food. “Especially since I am pregnant. ... I didn’t want to take any chances.”
However, customers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of wasted food and hard-earned money. The stores, too, had to clear their inventory of unsellable items.
At the Kroger in Shelter Cove Towne Center on Hilton Head Island mid-day Saturday, the only remaining traces of the hurricane were the limit of two gallons of water per customer that checkout clerks were giving away, portable toilets outside and the bare organic frozen-foods section.
Joyce Williamson, a Long Cove resident, evacuated to Atlanta and said she hated throwing away so much food that spoiled while she was gone.
The Publix at Buckwalter Place in Bluffton also seemed fairly well-stocked. Bottles of water, which everyone in the county tried to get their hands on in the days leading up to the storm, was stacked up in front of the store like it had never been a depleted commodity.
More than $500 worth of food — including about two weeks’ worth of frozen meals — was lost in Aurora Rios’ fridge, but she said she waited a while after the storm to go back to the grocery store because her friend warned her that most basic items, like milk and bread, were scarce.
By the time the retired Marine and Savannah Tech student went to the Walmart Supercenter in Hardeeville, the only item she noticed the store was low on was bread.
“Everything’s kind of getting back into a normal routine,” she said.
Despite losing so much, Rios said her family didn’t have any other damage from the storm to deal with — unlike her neighbor, who had a tree fall on their house and their car.
“It could have been a lot worse,” she said.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette could not reach corporate representatives of Walmart, Publix and Kroger on Saturday.