As pandemic drags on, Publix removes one-way shopping aisles

While some grocers are still using floor decals to direct shoppers, the Lakeland-based chain says shoppers have learned to keep safe distances.
A shopper is seen leaving the Publix supermarkets store located along U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs in July.
A shopper is seen leaving the Publix supermarkets store located along U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs in July. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2020

One-way aisles are no more at Publix stores across Tampa Bay.

Over the weekend, the Lakeland-based chain’s employees began to pull up their taped arrows. The floor decals directed shoppers to travel in one direction down each aisle to keep them from passing one another face-to-face. The measure was one of several unrolled at retailers nationwide in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But as cases start to trend down, retailers are at the early stages of relaxing some of their COVID-19 precautions while still maintaining mask use.

Publix, like other grocers, also has moved to providing shoppers disinfecting wipes to clean off carts rather than having employees do it.

“We continue to take actions across our operations to help safeguard the health and well-being of our customers, associates and communities,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in a statement. “We implemented one-way aisles at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic to help our customers understand and practice social distancing, and over time it has become widely understood and adopted into our routines.”

One-way aisles have been discontinued at all of Publix locations except those with local laws or ordinances that specify they be used.

But it’s not uncommon to see shoppers ignore, or forget, about the arrows pointing them in a certain direction.

Publix stores still have regular announcements and floor decals that remind shoppers to stay at least 6 feet apart, Brous said.

Walmart, which was among the first retailers to begin putting directional arrows and reminders to stay 6 feet apart on its floor, is still using the method across its stores nationwide. Trader Joe’s and Aldi still use one-way aisles, while Winn-Dixie uses floor decal spots to maintain social distancing.

Brous said Publix has shifted to having customers wipe down carts in part because disinfectant wipes have started becoming more widely available and the chain is able to distribute more. Aldi has already made the same shift. The new Hitchcock’s Green Market in St. Petersburg also has wipes for shoppers to disinfect their own carts.

Related: Winn-Dixie announces new mask requirements

In mid-July, retailers shifted from encouraging masks to requiring them — though most grocers stop short of forcibly removing shoppers who refuse to wear a face covering.

Even with masks, social distancing and plexiglass barriers, grocery workers are still getting sick.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported last week that 103 grocery workers have died because of the virus and more than 14,000 workers have been exposed to it. Those numbers only include the union’s members, which doesn’t include workers at stores such as Publix, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

In April, the Tampa Bay Times published a report that showed Publix lagged behind competitors in enacting COVID-19 protection measures. At one point Publix employees were not allowed to wear masks to work. Now, they’re a required part of employee uniforms.

Related: Last in line: Publix lagged behind competitors in COVID-19 safeguards

Publix also never set a company-wide standard that limited the number of shoppers allowed in the store at one time. That’s something Aldi, Walmart and Trader Joe’s continue to do. Walmart specifies it only allows 20 people in its store for every 1,000 feet.

Several chains have stopped offering designated shopping hours for the elderly or immune compromised. Publix returned to its normal operating hours in mid-May after shortening to give staff more time to disinfect and restock.

Walmart still offers a senior shopping period and hour before its stores open every Tuesday. About two weeks ago, Walmart began extending closing hours at most stores from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Walmart stores that had once been open 24-hours-a-day still have not returned to that schedule.

In Florida so far, 11,331 people have died because of the coronavirus since the state’s first cases were announced earlier this year. Another 623,471 people in Florida have tested positive for the virus.

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