Local Grocery Store Keeps Shelves Stocked, Customers Safe And Employees Supported During COVID-19 Pandemic
PINE LEVEL – As the COVID-19 crisis hit in mid-March, a new set of challenges were felt across the nation as grocery stores, especially large chains, struggled with shortages in dairy, meat and essential supplies. While these chain stores were met with empty shelves, price surges, and purchasing limits, local independent grocers have become the hometown heroes – remaining a safe and reliable source of food, support, and employment throughout the pandemic.
Town Market is a family owned and operated grocery store located in Pine Level, about 35 miles southeast of Raleigh. The epitome of a small town, Pine Level has a population of 1,978 and only one stop light, making the community extremely close-knit and interconnected. Owners Billy and Mary Daughtry saw the demand for a grocery store in their town and decided to open Town Market in 2002. They started out by renovating the previous town store, but quickly realized they needed to expand and build a brand-new store to meet the increasing demands of the local community. With no prior experience in the grocery store business, the Daughtrys focused their mission on customer service and becoming a reliable and essential base for the residents of Pine Level.
Town Market has become a neighborhood staple ever since opening its doors in 2002, and even more so during the COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the unforeseen pandemic, the Daughtrys showed continued support for their local community and team members by adapting their business models to meet new supply demands and making safety and health a top priority.
In the early months of the pandemic, the effects were largely felt within the grocery supply chain. The uncertainty was causing an increase in demand for essential items such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies, canned goods, pastas, frozen foods and more. COVID-19 also had an effect on the meat, poultry and dairy industries. Outbreaks amongst processing workers were seen throughout several large facilities that supply most of the country’s meat, poultry and dairy to grocery stores and restaurants.
While larger grocery stores such as Walmart and Food Lion were experiencing meat shortages and price increases, Town Market took swift action and was able to maintain their supply and market price of high-quality meat throughout the pandemic. The store was also able to maintain high demand supplies like cleaning products and toilet paper as well as locally sourced specialty products like honey from local farmers. This was largely thanks to Merchants Distributors, one of the few family-owned distributing companies in the grocery industry.
“When you ask about what we’re proudest of, I think it is the fact that we’ve been able to maintain our meat supply this whole time, while larger stores have not,” said Billy Daughtry, Owner of Town Market. “MDI has always been a dependable distributor, especially through all of this. You could tell they were prepared for these types of emergency situations and have done the absolute best that they could do given the circumstances.”
MDI works with over 600 independent grocers, with strong relationships with farmers and purveyors at the forefront of their mission in order to do what they do best – feed local communities. Seeing how easily the supply chain was affected after 9/11, MDI prioritized crisis-training and the creation of a pandemic plan, which they had in place when COVID-19 hit to swiftly change course and lean into their expertise in order to support these independents and their communities.
“We at MDI take pride in being able to work with and support independent grocery stores such as Town Market to fulfill their missions and remain a reliable source of family, friendship, and nourishment in their communities,” said Michele Azar, President at Merchant Distributors Inc. “We worked closely with Billy and Mary Daughtry to ensure the store had plenty of meat and supplies over the last several months so they could continue to be the go-to grocery store for the Pine Level community.”
Beyond meeting the supply chain demands, Town Market was also able to provide a safe environment for customers and employees alike. The store introduced new protocols such as social distancing markers, mask wearing and increased sanitation. Adjusting to meet new demands for high-risk individuals, the grocery store also introduced delivery and pick-up options. Team members took orders over the phone, email or curbside and safety delivered the groceries to individuals’ homes or cars to minimize contact and potential exposure.
While maintaining employment of their whole staff, the Daughtrys also increased the minimum wage for many of their employees to ensure that they are being compensated for their dedication to supporting the local community. “We consider our employees family. They could have stayed home, but they put themselves at the front lines,” said Billy. “We knew we needed to increase their wages from the start, and these will remain in place even after the pandemic.”
Throughout the last couple of months during the pandemic, Town Market has focused on philanthropic efforts to help community members most in need. The store partnered with area churches to supply pantry items and hot meals to those who were lacking essential supplies for themselves and their families. “It is our mission to support our neighbors, especially in times of crisis. Most recently when Hurricane Florence hit Pine Level in 2018, we were able to provide food and supplies to those affected. We’ve been able to do the same during COVID-19, in any way possible,” said Mary Daughtry, Owner of Town Market.
To show their support for high-risk individuals, Town Market provides a 10% discount to senior citizens every Thursday. To show their support for essential healthcare individuals in high risk roles, the Town Market offered discounted shopping opportunities. The Daughtrys will also be offering a new discount to teachers and educators as they head back to school, either virtually or socially distanced. The idea was inspired by Billy and Mary’s own son who is a teacher and suggested that the store offer assistance to these essetial workers who are adjusting their curriculum (and even risking their own health) to ensure the community’s youth has the best possible education, whether it’s completely online or in-person.
While many grocery stores are the only place in town for communities to source their food, during the pandemic and beyond, Town Market has become more than just a place to grab a meal. Through their dedication and intuition, Town Market has truly become the hometown hero of Pine Level during the pandemic and beyond.