Storm shopping: Blame it on meteorologist, tradition and need to control the ‘uncontrollable’
Whenever meteorologists start the drumbeat of a pending snowstorm, and particularly significant snowfall, panic buying at area grocery stores typically sets in.
“The more they talk about it (storm), the busier it gets. They panic. People get worried,” said Diana Espey, a manager at Naser Foods in Pleasant Unity.
Espey speaks from experience, having been at the store for 38 years and watching people stock up on bread, milk and toilet paper as storms approach.
Darryl Ricks and Andee Evans of Scottdale loaded up the back of their pickup truck with bags of groceries from Naser’s.
Ricks said it was a normal grocery run for them, but “we pretty much are sure we’re taken care of” in terms of the groceries needed. And that meant snacks for their 6-year-old son, in case he is stuck inside the house this weekend.
“You always prepare in advance,” Ricks said.
A weekend winter storm watch Friday was upgraded to a winter storm warning for much of Southwestern Pennsylvania, with the region expected to see more than a half foot of snow through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
The winter storm warning is in effect from 10 a.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday, according to the NWS. More snow will fall to the north of Pittsburgh and less to the south, meteorologist Pat Herald said.
Outside County Market in East Huntingdon, Lou Rega of Mt. Pleasant filled the backseat of his car with shopping bags, but it wasn’t because of the storm this weekend, he said.
“The storm doesn’t bother me. We’ll go (out) no matter what happens,” said Rega, who has had a barber shop in Mt. Pleasant for 45 years.
Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores generally see increased sales when snow is predicted, said Shawn Kelly, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
“We generate higher sales during winter storms than (heavy summer) storms,” Kelly said.
When Winter Storm Stella dumped about 3 feet of snow in the hardest-hit areas of the northeast in March 2017, Kelly said Pennsylvania saw retail sales increase by 16 percent.
Beer distributors for decades were the place to buy larger quantities, but changes in the state’s alcohol laws has allowed beer sales in convenience stores and supermarkets — and has put a dent in their pre-storm beer sales, said Patty Pace, a clerk at Jablonsky Distributing Co. in Greensburg.
“Most people, when they’re going out” before a snowstorm, “they get their beer at the store when they’re buying their bread, milk and toilet paper,” Pace said.
The panic buying in Western Pennsylvania focuses on “bread, milk and toilet paper,” but it’s bread, milk and eggs elsewhere, said Kelly Moore, an assistant professor of marketing at Duquesne University.
That practice of stocking up on bread, milk and toilet paper may be linked to the historic storm in Thanksgiving 1950, when more than 30 inches fell on the region, Moore said, citing research from a consumer psychologist. It also could be the tradition of rationing dating to the dark days of the Great Depression.
There’s also a “herd mentality” at play, based on an emotional response, rather than a rational one, Moore said.
Heading to the grocery store to buy the essentials “gives us a sense of control over an uncontrollable event like the weather,” Moore said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, email@example.com or via Twitter .