First day of customer limits: How Butler County businesses adjusted

For the first time, Ohio shoppers were limited by a state order Tuesday to strict numbers of customers allowed inside stores.

Some retail outlet managers and customers reported the new restrictions imposed to impede the spread of the coronavirus were largely working.

State-designated essential businesses such as grocery stores and retail hardware outlets employed everything from pedestrian line tape to control the number of customers entering to infrared detectors to monitor their spacing and flow.

Ohio’s newest and more stringent restrictions on customer volumes, exceeding previous minimums required by fire safety laws, kicked in midnight Monday, impacting millions of state residents and thousands of stores.

Explore MORE: Ohio’s stay-at-home extension starts today: What does it mean?
Explore MORE: Kroger implements customer capacity limits nationwide

Kroger officials said they had no reports of problems Tuesday.

“I was in a store all morning today and didn’t see us reaching the limit or need to begin queuing people. Everything seemed to be running quite smoothly,” said Kroger Company Spokeswoman Erin Rolfes.

“At every store, we have posted the number of people allowed inside on each entrance. As this number is based on square footage in the store, it’s different for each location. We also have queue lines set up and ready to go if they are needed.”

In Middletown’s Needler’s Fresh Market, Laura Schuerman, one of the location’s managers, said that “every half hour we are doing a count through the store counting all our employees, customers and vendors, making sure we stay under that 117 (limit).”

“Every hour we sanitize the carts and sanitize the registers after each customer. We have tape (on the floor) to make sure everyone stays six feet apart. We’re trying our best.”

Customers appeared to be adjusting to the new standards, she said, and overall they were acting less anxious than when the first coronavirus restrictions were announced last month.

“Now it’s a little more calm and everybody is more collected. But when it first came out it was hard keeping everybody separate,” she said.

Todd Davis, a shopper in the store, said that he hoped “they (stores) take the right measures that are needed.”

But Davis had concerns about the new store capacity limitations set by the state order.

“I don’t know how well that is going to go because that is just going to create another line (outside) for more (social) distancing and that could create more problems,” he said.

As Davis visited other area stores, he said there is a mix of customer responses to the distance restrictions

“Most people in general try but our brains aren’t wired that way. It takes awhile to get used to it and sometimes you forget. I think most people are trying but some people just don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said.

At Middletown’s Meijer store, signage at the main entrance announced to shoppers the new state law limits total capacity in the building - including employees - to 1,025. As of early Tuesday afternoon there were no lines outside of customers waiting to enter.

Nearby in the city’s Walmart, similar signage noted store capacity was now limited to 1,068. There was no line outside but a taped off area was ready should customers have to begin to wait to enter.

Major national chains of essential businesses allowed by Ohio law to operate are posting their COVID-19 information and precautions on their websites so customers know what their shopping will entail.

Lowes stores locally and nationally have taken a number of safety measures, according to online statements from company officials. These include “temporarily closing all stores at 7 p.m. daily to provide additional time for essential product replenishment and to thoroughly clean and sanitize our stores.”

And installing “enhanced social distancing protocols by adding dedicated social distancing ambassadors responsible for monitoring customer flow in garden centers and front-end areas and to enforce customer limits to allow proper social distancing.”

Kroger is using infrared heat detection technology to monitor and advise store managers if too many customers are congregating in one area of their stores or if the store is close to exceeding the new capacity limits.

The standard building capacity for a grocery store is 1 person per 60 square feet, said company officials. Under Kroger’s new reduced capacity limits, the number will be one person per 120 square feet. Kroger will begin to monitor the number of customers per square foot in its stores using its technology, which already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores.

“Our system called QueVision – which we usually use to monitor traffic on the front end and see how long it’s taking for customers to get through the line – can count the number of people in the store. We have monitors throughout the front end of the store that will alert our teams if we are approaching the limit,” said Rolfes.

Coronavirus resources

  • Ohio Department of Health hotline: 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (staffed from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day)
  • ODH updates:
  • Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services helpline: 1-877-275-6364
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Butler County hotline: 1-844-4CRISIS
  • Ohio crisis text line: Text keyword "4HOPE" to 741 741
  • Butler County hotline for seniors who need help: 513-721-1025
  • Butler County hotline for those who want to help seniors: 513-623-3891
  • Complete Journal-News coverage:

About the Author