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‘We’ve never sold out of pork butt before’: Inside 22 L.A. grocery stores

Trader Joe’s in Hermosa Beach
Shoppers browse through barren shelves at a Trader Joe’s in Hermosa Beach.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Long lines. Crowded parking lots. Barren shelves. And of course, no toilet paper.

This is grocery shopping in the age of the coronavirus outbreak. As the number of cases continues to increase, shoppers have flocked to stores to stock up on shelf-stable items ranging from frozen foods and canned goods to rice and bread. Hand sanitizer and face masks are also in short supply.

The reason for much of this stockpiling? Fears of future shortages or quarantines that would prevent people from getting what they need.

The Los Angeles Times visited grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the L.A. area on Friday between noon and 3 p.m. Here’s what we found.

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Pavilions, Long Beach

The parking lot at the east Long Beach Pavilions was jammed. Shelves were emptying, but supplies remained ample, as long as you weren’t looking for toilet paper, water or hand sanitizer. “We haven’t had those things for a week,” said Gwynne Gregory, a home shopper for Pavilions, who fulfills online delivery orders.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper
In stock: beans, rice, frozen foods, baked goods and alcohol

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Meat counter at El Super.
(Jack Flemming / Los Angeles Times)

El Super, Highland Park

Cars filled every spot in the El Super parking lot, including the no-parking zone at the entrance, where some shoppers abandoned their vehicles with only their hazards on. Inside, the deli line was nearly as long as the checkout line.

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Out of stock: toilet paper, rice
In stock: beans, bread, frozen foods, meat, cakes and Purell wipes

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Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake.
(Makeda Easter / Los Angeles Times)

Trader Joe’s, Silver Lake

As the 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street” played softly over the store’s speakers, shoppers in gloves and masks perused barren shelves. While scouring the scant selection of dried nuts, one shopper remarked to another that the experience reminded her of hurricane season in Hawaii.

Out of stock: toilet paper, rice, beans
In stock: bread, frozen foods, pre-made meals like salads and wraps, canned tuna

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99 Cents Only store in Inglewood.
(Emmanuel Morgan / Los Angeles Times)

99 Cents Only, Inglewood

Aisles were crowded, but customers didn’t seem panicked. Shoppers were there with their families; couples cracked jokes to each other. Only one loaf of bread was left, and it was in the wrong aisle, near the canned goods.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, rice, beans
In stock: frozen food, canned fruits and vegetables, juice, fresh fruit and vegetables

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Cheese at Trader Joe’s in Culver City.
(Matthew Brennan / Los Angeles Times)
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Trader Joe’s, Culver City

Several customers covered their mouths with scarves. A few wore medical face masks. One food item that was still plentiful: cheese. Those looking for toilet paper, beans or bread were out of luck.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, beans, bread
In stock: cheese, frozen prepared foods, alcohol

Grocery Outlet in Burbank
Grocery Outlet in Burbank.
(Laurence Darmiento / Los Angeles Times)

Grocery Outlet, Burbank

Though lines snaked down the aisles from all five checkout stations, the store was surprisingly hushed, as shoppers studiously picked at shelves. “It’s crazy busy,” said one employee. “Everybody is panicking ... And they don’t have enough information so they are just going out and erring on the side of caution.”

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, beans, rice, eggs, fresh meats
In stock: alcohol, milk, ice cream, pastries

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Tokyo Central in Gardena.
(Garrett Snyder / Los Angeles Times)

Tokyo Central, Gardena

Lines were 15 to 20 customers deep, but moved briskly. Employees continued to offer free samples. A few cashiers wore masks. The store imposed a two-item limit on high-demand items. “We’ve been good about keeping items in stock, but rice, noodles and water have been hard because people are buying so much,” said employee Ryan Cifuentes.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper
In stock: beans, bread, prepared foods, meat, snacks, canned goods, produce, bottled water

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Pasta aisle at Pavilions in Malibu.
(Ben Poston / Los Angeles Times)

Pavilions, Malibu

The Pavilions parking lot was nearly full and culinary staples were hard to find. In the pasta and bean aisle, an employee broke it to a customer that there were no beans left. “No beans!” the customer said. “This is like Russia!”

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, rice, beans, gallon jugs of water
In stock: bread, frozen foods, cheese, fruits and vegetables

Northgate Gonzalez Market in Long Beach
Rice went quick at Northgate Gonzalez Market.
(Christie D’Zurilla / Los Angeles Times)

Northgate González, Long Beach

Shopping carts were packed to the brim and checkout lines ran deep into the aisles where toilet paper and water were once stocked. The tortilleria has been running nonstop for days.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, rice, ramen, cans of hominy
In stock: chilis, canned beans

Pavilions, Marina Del Rey

An empty dispenser of disinfectant wipes greeted shoppers. Many aisles were fully stocked, but long lines snaked through the stores. The mood was tense as shoppers reached for the remaining stash of laundry detergent, frozen peas and frozen pizza, along with a few dented cans of pinto beans. Workers hurried to restock fresh chicken and yogurt. The soup aisle was ravaged, in particular Campbell’s.

Out of stock: Hand sanitizer, toilet paper, pasta
In stock: Produce, bread, beer, alcohol, pistachios

Pico Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson
The baked good selection at Pico Glatt Mart in Pico-Robertson.
(Alison Brower / Los Angeles Times)

Pico Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson

“No good rice!” a customer on the phone said. And indeed there was no rice, no bread, no meat, no matzoh. Staffers and shoppers said it was only somewhat busier than a normal Friday.

Out of stock: rice, bread
In stock: Whole red trout and other fish, beans and frozen food

Eden Market in West Los Angeles
Eden L Market in West Los Angeles
(Julia Turner / Los Angeles Times)

Eden L Market, West Los Angeles

Just a handful of customers roamed this small Oaxacan market, but there were signs of stockpiling. Staffers were busy restocking rice and pasta. A sign by the toilet paper shelves read: “Panda Limit 2 Scott Single limit 4.” The cashier said business picked up two days ago: “I guess after the big stores ran out people started coming to us.”

Out of stock: Hand sanitizer
In stock: Rice, beans, tortillas, mango, dried fish, produce

Gelson’s Market in Calabasas
Gelson’s Market in Calabasas
(Arash Markazi / Los Angeles Times)

Gelson’s Market, Calabasas

Parking overflowed into the Chase lot next door. There were no shopping carts available at either entrance. Customers were restricted to just two gallons of water, two rolls of paper towels and two rolls of toilet paper. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said one employee. “People are coming in here and filling up their shopping carts like they’re trying out for Supermarket Sweep.”

Out of stock: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, canned beans, bread, eggs, organic vegetables
In stock: water, paper towels, alcohol, frozen food

Ralphs in Malibu
The paper towel aisle at the Ralphs in Malibu.
(Ben Poston / Los Angeles Times)

Ralphs, Malibu

People seemed frustrated and a little tense. Most shoppers were avoiding close contact. Shelves were empty in the toilet paper aisle and almost all the beans, pasta and soup were gone. One customer said she had been waiting more than 20 minutes. “It’s been like this all day,” a staffer replied.

Out of stock: toilet paper, frozen vegetables, potatoes, fresh beef at the meat counter
In stock: beer, soda, bread, cheese, hummus and ice cream

Island Pacific Seafood Market, Long Beach

All of the 45- and 50-pound sacks of rice that usually line the shelves next to the produce were gone, leaving only a paper sign declaring a limit of two per customer. A few more items were in short supply, including ramen, sardines and all the brand-name Spam that wasn’t jalapeno-flavored.

Out of stock: toilet paper, rice, Breyer’s ice cream, bagged potatoes and onions
In stock: beans, frozen food, fresh meat and fish

99 Ranch Market, Corona

Cleaning products were in short supply. As were most varieties or rice, ramen and noodles. “We’ve never sold out of pork butt before,” said butcher John Casidsid.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, pork butt
In stock: cookies, wafers, some frozen food

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Numero Uno in Lennox.
(Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times)

Numero Uno Market, Lennox

Most areas were well-stocked, and a sense of determined calm hovered over shoppers. “Limit 2" signs hung over the toilet paper shelves, where only one four-roll pack remained. “Don’t worry about a thing, miss,” an older man said in Spanish, letting a woman in a check-out line use his cart for her four packs of napkins and four packets of Maseca tortilla flour. “It’s all just a scare, and in two weeks everything will be back to normal.”

Out of stock: water, toilet paper, paper towels
In stock: pretty much everything else

Ralphs, Redondo Beach

Cars circled around the parking lot looking for an empty spot while drivers jockeyed for position as cars pulled out. Inside, it was a calm chaos. Aisles were full of people, but no one was rushing or shoving. Shelves were empty and people were grabbing whatever they could, mostly the expensive versions of items that were left. Checkout lines snaked down multiple aisles, halfway to the back of the store.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper
In stock: lunch meat, cheese, beans, chips

Northgate Market in Culver City
Shelves are picked over in the Northgate Market in Culver City.
(Melissa Gomez / Los Angeles Times)

Northgate Market, Culver City

The line began forming outside Northgate Market before its doors opened at 6 a.m., and since then, the stream had been constant, one employee said. By 2 p.m., the check-out line curved around a corner until additional checkout stations were opened. One woman raced to push her cart forward, “or else we’ll never get out,” she said in Spanish to her companion.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, rice, beans
In stock: frozen foods, bread, baby food, a variety of Hot Cheetos and candles with saints’ pictures

Ralphs in Mid-Wilshire
Pasta is going quick in Mid-Wilshire.
(Samantha Schulz / Los Angeles Times)

Ralphs, Mid-Wilshire

A mom with two young kids in the marshmallow section swatted her child’s hand: “Don’t touch your eyes!”

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, rice, pasta
In stock: candy, coffee, canned beans

Bristol Farms, Westchester

Checkout lines only had about five or six people in the queue — about as busy as it normally gets during the holidays, a security guard said. Toilet paper and bread were out of stock, but meat, produce and frozen items were still available.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, bread
In stock: rice, beans, frozen foods, produce

Costco in Corona.
Bread is popular at the Costco in Corona.
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

Costco, Corona

After shoppers cleared out the ramen soup, workers brought in two new pallets Friday afternoon. Those were half empty within five minutes. Rice, cauliflower rice, tuna, frozen pizza and canned beans were nearly depleted. Protein drinks were running low, too.

Out of stock: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, water, wipes, paper towels
In stock: vitamins

Times staff writers Ben Poston, Jack Flemming, Glenn Whipp, Samantha Masunaga, Melissa Gomez, Daniel Hernandez, Christie D’Zurilla, Nathan Fenno, Garrett Snyder, Makeda Easter, Laurence Darmiento, Julia Turner, Emmanuel Morgan, Mark Potts, Terry Castleman, Jessica Roy, Anousha Sakoui, Arash Markazi, Sam Schulz, Matt Brennan, Sean Greene, Genevieve Ko, Alison Brower, Ben Mims, Roger Vincent, Helene Elliott, Thomas Suh Lauder, Mark Olsen and Jeanette Marantos contributed to this report.


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