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Inside the Texas weather retail apocalypse  

The pandemic line waiting to get into HEB is back, with bonus giant piles of snow.

I thought the lines, the social media posts of product availability, and the hoarding common in the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic were a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Try adding ice, snow, bitter cold temperatures, blackouts, water shortages and boil orders. Texas grocers are surviving an apocalypse – and it’s not over.

These guys were probably on their way to HEB. This is Interstate 35, the main highway through Texas.

When “The Storm” or whatever strange name they’ve started giving winter storms these days hit my area in Central Texas, everything ground to a halt – a day earlier than expected. We were all told a cold snap would hit Wednesday night and into Thursday, followed by a brief warm-up and then snow and for real, serious bitter cold.

It came early. No one really had a chance to do that last stock-up.

I grew up in the Midwest and am well familiar with the “French Toast Forecast,” where everyone seemingly hoards bread, eggs, and milk ahead of a storm. It seems like Texans don’t know the French Toast Forecast. I’m sitting back in my (mostly warm) house with mostly-on power packing up bags of groceries from my pantry for my neighbors, who can’t get out to the store.

Faced with a power outage, H-E-B gave everyone in the Leander store their cart of groceries (minus alcohol). The store is still closed a few days later.

Not that there’s anything AT the store.

Even H-E-B, arguably one of the best-prepared retailers when it comes to disasters and crises – they have their own mobile feeding units! – is having a hard time. Many of the stores in my area are either closed entirely due to power and water outages, or are operating limited hours, open from 12-5, with a limited assortment of items available.

All of those pandemic shoppers who have adapted to online grocery pickup? Orders were cancelled and remain unavailable through next week.

These kinds of posts are common on neighborhood social media groups right now.

People line up hours before Costco opens (though we’re never sure what time they open, and it’s written on a piece of cardboard out in front of the store) because they saw on social media that Costco has meat, eggs, milk, and bread.

H-Mart has become a favorite here in the North Austin suburbs because everyone hears the are fully stocked with no lines. H-Mart, for those who have never been, is a Korean supermarket chain relatively new to Austin.

I’m watching social media and almost all of the posts are people asking about food and water availability. It’s surreal.

And it won’t get better immediately. Logistics are a nightmare right now. Remember during the first few weeks of pandemic hoarding when industry groups assured consumers it would take a few weeks for the supply chain to catch up to unprecedented demand?

Try that with sheets of ice on the roads and power outages at warehouses and grocery stores.

“It’s not that there’s no food and it’s not that there’s no gas, it’s just that those commodities have not left their distribution centers yet to actually hit the points where consumers can get to it,” said Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association, Mission. “I think that’s going to be a big case for our industry, and others…for at least the next week, probably the next 10 days, before we get back to a point of normalcy,”

I can’t imagine there won’t be shortages for at least two weeks as everything catches back up and people restock their pantries. A fair amount of people have spoiled food from their refrigerators if they had to abandon their home and stay somewhere else.

One of several bags of groceries I packed up for neighbors. I guess you could say I’m a pantry hoarder?

In the meantime, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom and frozen pipes. It’s heartwarming to see people come together to help neighbors. My neighborhood’s social media pages are full of people helping people, sharing what they have, from food and other essentials, to puzzles, games, and other power-outage activities.

My pantry-hoarding tendencies have come in handy these days, as I’ve listed extra food I have available to share and have watched as neighbors ice skate their way along the sidewalks to pick it up from my porch.

The cold has almost passed. Everything is thawing now, and we’ll be in the 50s this weekend and 60s and 70s next week.

I can’t wait to get to the store again, and I know everyone else feels the same way.


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.