“Unprecedented”: Great Lakes Foods in Tomahawk navigates COVID-19 pandemic
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
TOMAHAWK – When asked to describe the last few weeks at Great Lakes Foods in Tomahawk, Store Directors Gail and Mark Youngs took a few moments to find the right word.
“Unprecedented,” Gail said, before explaining what it’s been like at the store at 990 N. 4th St. in Tomahawk following Governor Tony Evers’ March 12 declaration of a public emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
“It’s been a day-by-day, sometimes an hour-by-hour thing where prices have been changing, markets have been changing,” Gail stated.
“At the beginning of the week, I was getting price changes on meat probably three times a day,” added Mark. “When the demand goes up, the supply gets depleted, and prices go up because the price follows the demand. That’s just the name of the game.”
Gail and Mark said business increased drastically around March 11. Since then, they estimated the sizes of the orders have roughly quadrupled.
After the spike in customers, products like toilet paper, antibacterial wipes, various cleaning products, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol were difficult to acquire because warehouses weren’t able to stock them. Although toilet paper is back in stock, the cleaning and sanitation products are still running low.
Mark said there have been noticeable changes in which products customers have been purchasing.
“People haven’t been buying high-end steaks. They’re buying roasts, they’re buying potatoes,” he noted. “I think we’ve sold more lettuce than we ever have before. People are home. They’re not going out to eat. They’re not going out to get a chef salad. They’re making their own now.”
There are limits on how much of certain items customers can buy, such as milk, eggs, ground meat. Gail and Mark said they want to be sure people from Tomahawk and other local communities can come to the store and get the items they need, and that they won’t be sold out of them.
“We want to make sure our customers are taken care of and everyone gets a little, instead of no one getting anything,” Gail said.
Gail noted seniors are encouraged to shop at the store early in the morning, between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., when the store has been recently sanitized and there are fewer customers. She added that seniors can call the store with their shopping lists and she or Mark will shop for them before preparing their groceries for either pickup at the store or for delivery by Bear Renovations.
Gail and Mark said the store’s employees have been “heroes” over the last few weeks.
“Our staff has been amazing,” Gail stated. “They’ve worked extra hours, they’ve spent time away from their families, and they’ve put their safety at risk. We pride ourselves on having a small, but really great staff. The people we have here have definitely gone the extra mile. Everybody’s pitched in, and that’s what makes it work.”