This Thanksgiving, hit the grocery store early to avoid overcrowding

A baby sits in a cart as two women stop in front of the dairy case at a Smart & Final.
People shop at a Smart & Final Extra! at Jordan Downs Plaza in Watts. The California Grocers Assn. is urging consumers to try to avoid crowds.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Amid an alarming statewide surge of COVID-19 cases, California’s grocers are urging consumers to do their holiday food shopping ahead of time.

November and December are traditionally the two busiest months for the grocery industry, according to the California Grocers Assn.

This year, crowds could be a threat to shoppers and workers alike. Cases of the coronavirus have increased substantially in recent weeks, spurred in most instances by large gatherings and close contact.


“Thanksgiving and Christmas are the Super Bowl days for grocery store retail,” Ron Fong, California Grocers Assn. president and CEO, said Wednesday. “We recommend that you purchase non-perishable items starting today. It’s not too early.”

Unlike in earlier months of the pandemic — remember the run on toilet paper? — Fong said supplies wouldn’t be an issue and there was more than enough turkey, stuffing and gravy to go around.

The concern right now, he said, is people.

“We do have capacity limits, and we will be enforcing that, which is another reason to shop early,” Fong said. “What we’re really worried about is the few days before Thanksgiving when everybody’s rushing.”

Much of California is now in the strictest, or purple, tier of the state’s color-coded reopening system, which means that although grocery stores are considered an essential service, they must operate at 50% capacity. That could translate to longer lines and congestion for people who wait until the last minute.

In a news release about the upcoming holiday, the grocers association said many stores had hired additional staff members, added cooler and freezer capacity and created pickup stations to keep things moving.

But the association also urged shoppers to take advantage of online delivery options and avoid entering grocery stores at all.


Meanwhile, city officials are hoping people will be preparing smaller holiday meals. They are discouraging Thanksgiving travel, large indoor dinners and any gatherings with more than 10 people.

If you must shop, the association said, don’t bring extra people, maintain a distance of two carts between yourself and others at all times, avoid unnecessary handling of food items and products in stores, and always wear a mask.

And — in the spirit of the season — be kind to one another.

“Our grocery store workers have families just like everybody else,” Fong said. “They have the same worries, but they are choosing to go to work to serve their communities. A simple ‘thank you’ will go such a long way.”