It was a dreary, wet morning on the North Shore on Thursday, but the Super One parking lot in Two Harbors was brimming with vehicles.
Beth Quinlan and Cathy Johnson were rolling a full cart out to their SUV to take back to their home in the Twin Cities suburbs. Typically, tourists stop at the Two Harbors supermarket before continuing up state Highway 61 to a resort — not when they head home. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed that trend for many headed back to the metro area.
“We’re stocking up to head back because we’re so bare down there,” Quinlan said.
The pair have been vacationing at Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay, but said they have been “socially isolating” throughout their trip.
Much like other grocers around Minnesota, stores on the North Shore have seen a massive increase in sales since the coronavirus pandemic began canceling sporting events and closing businesses across the U.S. last week.
Steve Knutson, general manager of the Super One in Two Harbors, said his store saw five consecutive days of record sales beginning late last week. He said the numbers have tapered off the past couple days, but the number of customers in the store was a “substantial” increase over what they normally see midday on a Thursday.
Knutson said it’s difficult to tell if many of the Twin Cities-area residents are making day trips solely to stock up or if they are staying in the area longer. While restaurants, bars and other businesses have been forced to close, most North Shore resorts are open for business. Cove Point Lodge, Superior Shores and Odyssey Resorts, which operates six resorts between Duluth and Grand Marais, all remain open and are still taking reservations.
“It’s hard to monitor because we have tourists coming up all 12 months of the year,” Knutson said. “I’m sure that’s the case, but how much more of an impact it’s been recently, there’s no way to really know.”
Knutson said employees at the store have worked nonstop over the past week to keep shelves stocked and full for all customers. They’ve occasionally even roped off some aisles so they can be fullly restocked before customers come back through.
“The employees here have been unbelievable,” Knutson said. “The way they’ve worked and come together — it’s been a joy to watch. I’m very proud of them.”
Judy Carlson, an employee at Zup’s in Silver Bay, said there has been a definite increase in out-of-town customers.
“It’s true,” she said. “We’ve got July sales in March and there’s a lot of unfamiliar faces.”
Business has increased at the Finland Co-op, but it hasn’t seen the traffic the bigger stores in Two Harbors and Silver Bay are experiencing, according to sales associate Elaine Heine, but they are trying to prepare if there is a rush. For example, the unincorporated community's cooperative store is already limiting the purchase of toilet paper to one package per customer.
“You can definitely tell when Zup’s is out of stuff because they are coming here to get it,” Heine said.
Lake County Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt said she's not surprised people are heading to the North Shore if they believe shelves are better stocked than bigger cities, but "it's not a good idea."
“We’re not supposed to be traveling or spreading out as much as possible," she said. "We’re supposed to be sheltering at home as much as possible. I think most people have enough supplies at home to get by for a few days or more.”
While food shelves and others have scrambled to ensure they can still get groceries to people in need, there’s been no suggestion that food or other necessities won’t be available for purchase. Further, those traveling to the North Shore for groceries are not likely people who would need access to a food shelf, according to Kohlstedt.
“I know food shelves are working to stock up and provide food to those that cannot afford it,” she said.
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