Box Stores Are Limiting Sales to Only 'Essential' Items in Parts of the Country

Retailers like Costco, Target, and Walmart are encouraging shoppers to make shorter and less-frequent trips to the store.

Across much of the nation, stores deemed “non-essential” have been forced to close in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. But just because non-essential stores are closed doesn’t mean you can’t get non-essential things. If you’ve hit up Walmart’s toy section to keep your kid occupied or the gardening section to kickstart your vegetable patch, then you know what I mean. The ability to grab these non-food items certainly makes life easier, but it could also be seen as an additional temptation to unnecessarily leave your home. So some parts of the country—including the entire state of Vermont—have taken additional action telling “essential” large retailers that they can only sell “essential” things.

Last week, Vermont’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued an additional order directed specifically at “large ‘big box’ retailers, such as Walmart, Target and Costco”—the kind of stores people rely on for groceries, but also a lot of other stuff—restricting the items they could sell in-person to only those deemed essential by the state during this coronavirus pandemic.

costco store coronavirus social distancing
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“Large ‘big box’ retailers generate significant shopping traffic by virtue of their size and the variety of goods offered in a single location,” Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said in the announcement. “This volume of shopping traffic significantly increases the risk of further spread of this dangerous virus to Vermonters and the viability of Vermont’s health care system. We are directing these stores to put public health first and help us reduce the number of shoppers by requiring on-line ordering, delivery and curbside pickup whenever possible, and by stopping the sale of non-essential items.”

And if you’ve ever wondered what is truly essential, here’s a great chance to hear Vermont’s opinion. The governor’s original executive order allowed for “grocery stores, pharmacies, other retail that sells food, beverage, animal feed and essential supplies;” “fuel products and supply;” “hardware stores;” and “transportation sector and agricultural sector equipment parts, repair and maintenance.”

As for what’s non-essential, this new directive specifically calls out (but is not limited to) “arts and crafts, beauty, carpet and flooring, clothing, consumer electronics, entertainment (books, music, movies), furniture, home and garden, jewelry, paint, photo services, sports equipment, toys and the like.”

Importantly, these items can still be sold by these stores, just not in-person/in-store. Instead, they have to be offered “via online portals, telephone, delivery, or curbside pickup, to the extent possible.” In-store, however, access to non-essential items must be restricted either by closing aisles, closing portions of the store, or removing these items from shelves.

Though Vermont appears to be the largest example of this policy, the Northeastern state isn’t the only place where these measures have been taken. On Saturday, the Springfield News-Leader reported similar restrictions in Missouri. And yesterday, Colorado Public Radio News reported that access to non-essential goods in places like Target had been restricted across Summit County.

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