A late night, overhead view of the Larry’s Super Market check-out counter area. Mark Dokken is alone in the store, lower right.
Brittany and Mark Dokken, watching Minnesota Governor’s “stay at home” press conference. She’s watching on the computer and Mark is watching on phone.
Local citizens offering to help in any way...Sytsma family made our staff
personal pizzas, very good...

Happy Easter … Egg prices triple, Canned fruits, vegetables in high demand

Editor’s note: Local grocer Mark Dokken has been keeping an informal diary over the span of three weeks—as customers have stocked up during
the rush of the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
Mark and Brittany Dokken have been working nearly around the clock.
The Dokkens finalized the purchase of the store earlier this year from longtime Pelican grocers Phil and Cyndy Stotesbery—Brittany’s parents.
“Quite the initiation into new business ownership,” noted Mark, in the first week of the coronavirus situation. We re-print Mark’s notes here, with minimal editing.
—Louis Hoglund, managing editor

By Mark Dokken, Larry’s Super Market

Monday 3/23
Woke up, thought of my Grandfather as we had business talks prior to his passing. Channeled my grandfather, Delmer, and Brittany’s late grandfather, Larry, to be with me and guide me….both entrepreneurs
in their day.

Lucky we did truck Sunday night, two specialty supplier trucks were twice the size of normal. Also had 13 pallets of softener salt come in. Trying to stay ahead of consumer thought process, started noticing some increase in softener salt so loaded up.

Egg prices jumped, the new COST is above what my RETAIL was the prior week. Had to increase egg price. Normally this time of year egg price is competitive due to Easter. Prior years egg prices have been 79 cents to
99 cents for a dozen large, this week we are at 3.25/doz.

Watched MN confirmed cases, call Otter Tail County and confirmed no confirmed cases in OTC. (As of Sunday, March 28, one OTC case now confirmed.)

Snowbirds are arriving daily into the store, just getting back. Started plan to request snowbirds to do curbside for 2 weeks after arrival as we are seeing customers coming in from Florida, Arizona, Texas.

Did truck at night, done at 11:30 p.m. Told new staff to come Wednesday AM so I didn’t have to stay late Tuesday night doing truck. Lighter truck ordered for Tuesday night.

Tuesday 3/24
Quiet/normal. Day shift more relaxed. Finally got to go through our overstock. Ordered normal, but did order a bit extra of items I was guessing would be next on customers’ lists. Dairy tough to order, not sure if there will be another rush or if it will get quiet. Future days unpredictable. Perishables could turn into losses if we aren’t careful.

Started eliminating some items like self-serve muffins and soup. Still have local citizens offering to help in any way. Adjusted hours to 8 p.m. closing Mon-Sat. Mostly out of area customers and non-essentials from 8-8:30, not worth the risk.

Wednesday 3/25
Slow in AM, busy by 11:15 a.m. We received some bananas, celery, carrots from our produce supplier, could tell they were meant for schools/restaurants. Curbside busy 11:30-1:30. Sytsma family made our staff personal pizzas, very good. 

2 p.m. Governor Press conference, Stay in Place order. This brought a rush of customers in. Brittany and I discussed best way to handle or help the Governor with the Stay in Place order. The store has been chaos for 2 weeks, people coming from all over into our stores, aisles congested, no 6ft space possible.

I started making signs for our requests of customers. Last customer of the day was from Detroit Lakes, thanked me for having a “normal” store. I asked what he meant, he said DL was crazy….full parking lot and people all over, they had no canned veggies so he came to Larry’s. This concerned me, figured I was going to get hit for our canned fruits and veggies as our shelves are loaded and I have overstock.

Thursday 3/26
Vibe felt like it was going to busy Thursday and Friday, so I ordered heavy.

Started telling workers/customers about our customer requests to try and slow the customer counts, have less people in the store. We ran out of cart wipes, so we have a staff member scheduled now to just clean carts, baskets, dairy/freezer door handles, buttons, anything customers grab. We disinfect the carts/baskets before putting them back for use.

Brittany has been working hard on the curbside pickup, she flies through the store doing customer orders. I help out as well. Truck driver told me warehouse has 8 truckloads of toilet paper ordered. Manufacturer of our 24pk water raised prices on us, won’t give my booking price anymore…had to raise price on those. Saw forecast that egg prices will go up again next week, I’ll have to lower our margin so the price isn’t too high.

I watched a webinar put on by Progressive Grocer. Interesting info. Pandemic declared 3/11 and on 3/26 there were 3,282,000 jobless claims. Customers were told to buy two weeks of stock, customers went out and bought 4 weeks worth. TP sales were 800% higher than that time period for the prior year. All speakers of the webinar agreed there are 3 phases in this current grocery industry.

Phase 1 we’ve gone through, customers stocking up/hoarding/panic buying.
Phase 2 we are into, it is our temporary normal. Supply chain will catch up. High demand items will take time. Toilet paper manufacturers are going to focus on the best sellers, there will be less variety of TP.
3rd phase would be when all other retail/restaurants/businesses start opening up. Another note from the webinar, there is NO FOOD SHORTAGE. TP, wipes, aerosols, and hand sanitizer will take time. Natural and organic will take a while to catch up, not as much supply.

Went home 2:30 p.m. for nap, back at 4:30 and worked truck at night. Some product that came on truck has been out of stock, so good to see some returning. Milk was hit hard today, so added some to come on Saturday.

Friday 3/27
Brittany and I brought my in-laws’ vehicle to the airport as they were flying in that night, we dropped it off as to not be in same vehicle as them. They will self-quarantine for two weeks. Store not too busy, still lots of faces we don’t recognize, new people every day, word of mouth must be traveling about Larry’s. Put limits on some more items.

Staff seems uneasy, I could tell it was from the amount of customers we don’t recognize, created a bit of anxiety among employees. Brittany and I are not in as much contact with customers as employees, so we’ve overlooked the concerns a bit. A year-round lake customer informed me lots of out-of-state vehicles at the lakes.

I put up signs in the entry of our requests of out-of-area, seasonal, snowbird customers. I stressed when I made the poster boards for the entry, almost didn’t put them out. But I did as things were getting out of hand, too congested in the store and many aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously, worried they wouldn’t take the Stay in Place order serious.

I recorded Facebook video after I closed the store. (see my facebook video for details).

Saturday 3/28
Facebook video grew popular overnight. We were criticized by a couple on Facebook messenger, otherwise many positive comments. I received a call for some clarification on the video, gentleman also had some suggestions, it was a good phone conversation.

Good day of curbside pickup. Mellow day, never felt congested in the store which is the first time since March 11. A customer called that saw the video and did a curbside order, they had no problem with our request. I’m still not comfortable not being at the store, like to be there in event of customer questions/concerns. Also want to be there for the staff, they are anxious the way it is. It was a good day, the Governor’s order was a good thing.

Sunday 3/29
Similar to Saturday, not real busy. Staff was able to clean more often. I took a call in the morning from a Barnesville couple in regards to the Facebook video, they like our store and shop it. They were understanding of our requests, but were running low on their 5 gallon water jugs. I told them to come over and call, that I would come out and get the jugs/fill them up and do any other shopping for them.

I also explained if the store was quiet and few customers in the store, that they are welcome to come in. Explained I wasn’t sitting at the entry picking who gets to come in, who cannot. Simply asking customers to consider our requests. If the store gets congested, then I will step forward and limit the numbers in the store for the stay at home order timeframe. I stayed at store all day.