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Bigger than Christmas.
That's the way one Fort Oglethorpe Publix store official described business on Friday.
At nearly a half dozen grocery stores in the Chattanooga area, shoppers waited in lines that some termed much longer than usual to make purchases amid worries over the novel coronavirus.
Many people were buying the staples. Toilet paper was a hard-to-get item Friday morning. Soup, water and sanitizing wipes also were popular goods.
Yulisa Morales of Rossville was buying food, diapers and wipes to make sure she had those in stock and wouldn't run out "before everything's gone."
"They're buying everything," she said about shoppers at the Walmart on Battlefield Parkway.
At the Aldi store off Gunbarrel Road, some shelves were noticeably bare.
A note on the front door apologized to customers before they entered: "Dear shoppers, we ask for your understanding and ask that you be prepared to wait in line as business surges."
Chuck Pruett of Pruett's Market on Signal Mountain said the store has "really been busy."
"It's sort of like a snow scare," he said. "People are ready to hibernate at home."
Pruett said he thinks sales will peak and then trend lower.
"I hope it's not something that we look at in a week or two and say we were under-prepared," he said, adding that leaders are taking steps they think are best.
At the Costco store in Ringgold, Georgia, the large parking lot was nearly full and the wholesale warehouse was buzzing.
Shopper John Cami of Ringgold said people are buying the basics — water and paper towels, though Costco, too, was out of toilet paper at the time.
"It's extremely busy," he said. "The line is long to the back."
The store's manager, who didn't want to be identified, said the company's distribution center is doing its best to keep the shelves stocked. He said there wasn't any way to let shoppers know when goods such as toilet paper are back in stock except for them to call or come in.
The Fresh Market on Gunbarrel Road was busy, and not just in Chattanooga.
Nicole Chabot, a spokeswoman for the specialty grocer, said patrons are shopping as they would for a snowstorm or hurricane and preparing for a situation in which they could be at home for an extended period.
"They are stocking up on The Fresh Market's best-selling specialty items and easy meal solutions (Little Big Meals, Market Meal Kits)," she wrote in an email about the grocer that has more than 170 stores nationwide.
Also, shoppers are buying meat, frozen items and produce such as potatoes, onions, apples and oranges — items they cook with and fruit that has a longer shelf life — along with pantry staples, Chabot said.
She added that The Fresh Market has "elevated our already stringent cleaning and disinfecting processes to maintain the highest levels of cleanliness in our stores."
Not everyone was shopping with the concerns about the coronavirus in mind.
Mark Moore of East Ridge said he was at the Battlefield Parkway Walmart picking up his typical goods.
"I usually stay stocked up," he said, though he noted that "I've heard people are getting crazy now."
Kathleen Konop of Rossville said she was at Walmart picking up eye medicine and a few items.
"I'm not concerned," she said. "I'm a Christian. God has taken care of me for 66 years."
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.
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