The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Tracy Thompson
the Times 

Dayton Mercantile and Waitsburg Grocery work hard to maintain products and services during the COVID-19 pandemic

Owners of both local businesses express gratitude to their customers and employees


April 30, 2020

Lane Gwinn

Kaz Ravenwolf Pennington, from Waitsburg Grocery, helping customers on a Tuesday afternoon. Waitsburg Grocery and its employees are committed to keeping Waitsburg safe and healthy by practicing social distancing and disinfecting shared surfaces.

Grocery stores and their employees have become front-line services in these stay-at-home times. The Waitsburg Grocery Store on Main Street has been busy during the quarantine. Supply-chain challenges, stocking products customers are used to, and increased delivery and curbside service has required long work weeks from owner Jamie McMillen-Smit.

One of her first supply issues involved the price of eggs, which at one point reached three dollars a dozen while McMillen-Smit's cost was $3.21 a dozen. McMillen-Smit noted she "couldn't bring myself to charge over $3 a dozen." After working with dairy supplier Meadow Gold she was able to bring her costs down, allowing her to drop the price to $2.50 a dozen.

Her biggest issue so far, was losing her main grocery supplier, URM Stores, Inc, moments after she had placed a large order. URM helped her set up an account with a different supplier whose clientele are primarily convenience stores.

"Now our candy supply is fantastic, because when you are dealing with a convenience store wholesaler, that's what they stock - I don't have any problem getting candy, or Hostess," she said. The problem is she needs groceries which now takes extra effort to procure.

"It's definitely been a challenge," said McMillen-Smit.

McMillen-Smit travels to Pendleton on Tuesday mornings to buy directly from Hill Meat products, supplying her customers with the products they like, including the company's Old-Fashioned Frankfurters, pork and bacon. Meadow Gold Dairy and Frans Bread Company continue twice-a-week delivery schedules. Beer, spirts, and pop are keeping up with supply needs with once a week delivery.

"Our customers have been great; I've definitely seen the influx of more local buying. Grocery carts-full rather than baskets-full. People are definitely not wanting to leave town. Our deliveries and curbside (services) have gone up, we are probably doing 15-20 a week, where we used to do only one a month."

Curbside pickup and delivery service are offered Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Local resident Pam Alexanko made fabric masks for each of McMillen-Smit's eight regular employees and McMillen-Smit leaves it up to the staffer to choose to wear a mask or not.

McMillen-Smit notes that the store maintains a steady routine for cleaning; "We're bleaching everything on the hour, or upon use. We're bleaching baskets, we're bleaching handles, we're bleaching all that stuff hourly and after somebody comes in."

"Customers have been good about the six-foot rule. The only thing I see is sometimes entire families will come in which may not really be a necessity, but I also feel like it is their choice on that," she said.

"I truly love this town and am so thankful for those that choose to shop local!" McMillen-Smit added.

Jerry Waggoner, who owns Dayton Mercantile (aka IGA) with his wife Kristi Waggoner, noted that "we don't have enough product to sell. We buy out of Spokane, they are trying their best, but they're so far behind that they are trying to catch up, too."

Waggoner has had difficulty stocking paper products, soup products, dried beans and rice.

Mask-wearing is optional for staff, but he notes most checkers are wearing masks and everybody is wearing gloves.

"Every ten to fifteen minutes we wipe down the check stands, the grocery carts, we're trying to do our part," said Waggoner.

The partnership between his store and Columbia County Transportation (CCPT) has worked out very well. Shoppers can call in their order (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and Waggoner can take their payment information over the phone.

"We call CCPT and within fifteen minutes they're usually right here and they take it to where it needs to go," he added.

Waggoner and staff estimated that six to ten deliveries go out each day.

Due to the delivery system, there has not been a need for curbside pickup, but he has set aside the early morning hours from 7-9 a.m. for older customers on a daily basis. He won't turn away someone who is not in that category, however. He notes of his customers, "Everybody has just been really gracious, they've been super."


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