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Connecticut grocery stores urged to limit customers to 50% capacity

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The Connecticut Food Association is recommending that its grocery retail members allow no more than 50% of store capacity based on the local fire code, and communicate with customers — through signs and announcements — that only one person per household should be on shopping trips.

These were two of the six measures CFA issued in an advisory sent Tuesday morning to members, which include Stop & Shop, ShopRite, and Big Y. CFA President Wayne Pesce said members include smaller grocers such as McQuade's Marketplace and Tri-Town Foods, but not big-box stores, such as Target or Costco.

CFA also presented the plan to the governor's office and the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The other measures are ones you may have seen at a grocery store: marking 6-foot spacing in lines "and other high-traffic areas," maximizing space by opening only every other checkout lane, installing plexiglass at the registers, and discontinuing self-serve foods and product sampling.

Big Y said in an update Tuesday that its efforts include adding plexiglass screens at checkouts, along with closing cafes, bulk product bins, and self-serve areas for coffee, doughnuts, bagels and muffins.

"The health of our employees is something that we've got to really have a good handle on," Pesce said. He added that if an employee's roommate or family member has to quarantine and then the employee must quarantine, the question becomes: "Are we going to have the labor three or four or five weeks from now, as this starts to settle in from a numbers standpoint?"

Pesce said stores can enforce a 50% capacity by limiting the number of shopping carts, and that some CFA members will use an app that lets them track the number of people in stores.

The Connecticut Post reported that Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling on Sunday reduced the maximum occupancy for all businesses in the city, which at that point had 226 reported cases, to 50% of the fire marshal's limit.

Last week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that stores in the state could not allow more than 20% of fire capacity in the store at a given time. But Pesce doesn't agree with that level of restriction, fearing it could instead create lines outside of stores.

"We're not about managing people outside of the stores and asking them to maintain social distancing," he said. "That's a whole different issue."

As for what capacity is, "it's not 50 but it's not 500, either," Pesce said, noting that it will vary based on whether you're talking about a 70,000-square-foot store or a 20,000-square-foot store.

Pesce said that before people decide to go to the grocery store, they should ask themselves three questions: Can I wait a few days for an online order to arrive, can I do a curbside pickup program instead, and if I have to go in the store can I go alone? He acknowledged there are situations where a shopper may need to bring a family member along for the trip.

Pesce stressed that CFA has been working with local and state officials; he called the governor's office "outstanding" and "very flexible."

Asked about his contact with legislators in southeastern Connecticut, Pesce cited state Sens. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, as being particularly helpful. He said Somers has been in touch with his office and called her "a real leader," pointing to her successful push for Gov. Ned Lamont to temporarily eliminate the plastic bag tax.

e.moser@theday.com

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