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By 7:45 on Thursday morning, more than 250 shoppers, nearly all over the age of 60, waited in line at Costco in St. Louis Park. Early birds had been standing for up to an hour.

It was the second time Costco restricted the period from 8 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to people older than 60, disabled, pregnant or with a serious medical condition.


It was so popular that by 8:05, the limit of 150 people in the store had been reached. The next 100 people in line were told they would have to wait 10 minutes.

“I think after the governor put the stay-at-home order in place, today is going to be another rush like we had last week,” said John Rode of Golden Valley, one of the first people in line Thursday. “People will stock up for a couple of weeks.”

Despite the long line, many appreciated the orderliness of the group.

“I really like having this time when the pace is slower, and no one’s running past you,” said Darcy Chevrette of Crystal as she stood in line with friends waiting for the store to open. “Being here this early, I’m hoping they have TP back in stock.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, supermarkets nationwide have started reserving early hours for vulnerable customers. The Minnesota Grocers Association asked shoppers to honor the early hours reserved for seniors, disabled, immunocompromised, health care workers and first responders. So far, no stores are checking IDs except during times dedicated only to first responders and health care workers.

In the Twin Cities, most stores are offering the dedicated times and expect them to continue indefinitely.

The pace was slower at Fresh Thyme and Cub in St. Louis Park between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Thursday. “It’s awfully early, but I’m grateful they’re doing it,” said Lauren Kolb of Minnetonka as she shopped during Cub’s senior hour from 7 to 8 a.m.

Barb Schmitt of Minnetonka said that her 7 a.m. trip to Cub was the first time she had been to the grocery store in two weeks.

“I want to get my shopping done before Friday,” she said, referring to the stay-at-home directive. “People are still keeping their distance.”

Some have wondered if it’s a good idea to have numbers of vulnerable congregating in one place.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the dedicated time provides them a chance to get what they need without crowds.

“Social distancing recommendations hold up, even with vulnerable populations,” said spokeswoman Julie Bartkey. “The reality is, many don’t have other options like having someone else get their groceries for them.”

Still, the department recommends 6-foot distancing, and hand-washing after handling packaging or food. Also, people should stay home if they have any illness.

Some supermarkets offer times each day, while others such as Aldi, Target and Walmart choose specific days of the week. Stores without designated times for vulnerable customers recommend shopping early when the doors open.

Phil Little arrived at Lunds & Byerlys at 50th and France last week at 7:30. At 80, he appreciated the efforts that grocers are making to keep the vulnerable safe.

“The world’s on my schedule now,” he said with a good-natured laugh.

Staff writer Jackie Crosby contributed to this report.

Senior shopping

Aldi: 8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays

Coborn’s: 6-7 a.m. daily

Cub: 6-7 a.m. daily

Fresh Thyme: 6-8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For health care professionals and first responders on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Hy-Vee: 7-8 a.m. daily

Kowalski’s: 6-8 a.m. daily

Lunds & Byerlys: 7-8 a.m. daily

Mississippi Markets: First hour daily. Opening time varies by store

Target: First hour on Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Opening time varies by store.

Trader Joe’s: 9-10 a.m. daily

Walgreens: 8-9 a.m. Tuesdays

Walmart: 6-7 a.m. on Tuesdays

Wedge Co-op: 8-10 a.m. daily

Whole foods: First hour daily. Opening times vary per store.