By Gaige Davila
Shopping carts lined the outside of Port Isabel’s H-E-B store at 6:30 a.m., Monday morning. Security guards stood outside the entrance and along the registers. When H-E-B opened at 8:00 a.m., two hours later than their usual 6:00 a.m. opening time, employees let 30 customers in. The rest had to wait until people inside finished shopping and left.
This, H-E-B employees told the PRESS, was because of people rushing inside the store on Sunday morning, attempting to buy groceries in bulk before the shelves were empty by the afternoon.
Empty shelves at H-E-B and Walmart have become unwelcome-but-common sites for the Laguna Madre area lately. For the last few days, residents have lined outside of H-E-B with carts as early as 6:00 a.m., hoping to secure water and other goods before they run out.
In response, H-E-B and Walmart chain stores have shortened their hours, after customers left several shelves inside the store bare, with water, canned foods, cleaning products and toiletries being bought in bulk. H-E-B’s new hours are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Walmart’s hours are 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
The recent demand for groceries stems from growing concern of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The virus causes respiratory illness similar to the flu but with a higher death rate. To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Port Isabel, South Padre Island, or the Rio Grande Valley. As of March 16, there are 68 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.
A March 14 media release from H-E-B Newsroom said the reason for decreasing store hours gives HEB employees more time to restock groceries.
When asked if H-E-B plans to shut down stores or are experiencing decreases in supplies, an H-E-B spokesperson told the PRESS that if H-E-B has store closures, it would be updated through H-E-B Newsroom, their communications website. Everything else is “business as usual,” the spokesperson said.
But Port Isabel H-E-B employees have said they are receiving less supplies than usual. This may be due, they say, to more supplies going to other H-E-B stores.
H-E-B has said in social media posts that they are not running out of supplies, such as water.
H-E-B has imposed purchase limits on several items to help curb overbuying at their stores.
Below are a list of the items with purchase limits:
- Chicken – 4 units
- Ground Beef – 4 units
- Water – 2 multipacks and 2 gallons, total of 4 items
- Eggs – 2 units
- Frozen vegetables – 4 units
- Frozen breakfast – 4 units
- Frozen pizza – 4 units
- Boxed dinners – 8 units
- Pasta – 4 units
- Pasta Sauce: 4 units
- Rice – 4 units
- Canned Soup – 8 units
- Canned Vegetables – 8 units
- Canned Beans – 8 units
- Canned seafood – 8 units
- Canned meat – 8 units
- Dried Beans – 4 units
- Nut butters – 4 units
- Oatmeal – 4 units
- Cereal – 4 units
- Bread – 4 units
- Milk – 2 units
- Powdered Milk – 2 units
- Baby Diapers – 2 units
- Baby wipes – 2 units
- Toilet Paper – 2 units
- Paper Towels: 4 units
- Disinfecting & Antibacterial sprays/wipes – 4 units
- Liquid Bleach – 2 units
- Hand sanitizer – 2 units
- Hand soap – 2 units
- Hydrogen peroxide – 2 units
- Rubbing (Isopropyl) Alcohol/swabs – 2 units
- Latex Gloves – 2 units
- Masks – 2 units
H-E-B Store Director Rene Martinez declined to answer the PRESS’ questions on why they were limiting the amount of shoppers in the store and how the store was handling the increasing demand in groceries.
The PRESS contacted H-E-B’s Border Region Public Affairs Manager, Linda Tovar, asking why the Port Isabel H-E-B store was limiting the amount of customers in the store, why security was placed outside and inside the store, if Port Isabel’s H-E-B store was receiving less supplies than usual, and if supplies were going to other stores.
Tovar responded with a portion of an HEB Newsroom release addressing the latter questions:
“For the long term, H-E-B is in a good in-stock position on many of the items our customers need and we are working around the clock to restock our shelves,” the release stated. “While our customers might notice supply of some products low or temporarily out of stock, we encourage them to check back with us if they cannot find what they need, as we’ll continue to restock our products.”
In a phone conversation with Yvonne Loflin, H-E-B’s Border Region Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Loflin said H-E-B may or may not answer why Port Isabel’s H-E-B store had security, was limiting the amount of shoppers in the store, within the next few days. Loflin said H-E-B has been working to inform communities and could not give specific answers to the Port Isabel H-E-B store.
Port Isabel’s HEB’s gas station is still open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
The PRESS has reached out to Walmart’s corporate media relations department for comment on their store hours and supplies.