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Three of Limestone County's busiest retail stores announced changes this week, including designated times for senior citizens to shop and earlier closing times, to further reduce the spread of the new coronavirus.
Most of the changes are going into effect across the country. Dollar General, which has about 20 locations in the county, said about 75% of the American population is within 5 miles of a store.
As such, "we feel a responsibility to remain open and in-stock for all of our customers, many of whom live in areas that are not served by other retailers," the company said in a statement. Walmart and Publix have echoed the sentiment, each saying they want to do what they can to serve customers while keeping customers and employees safe.
It is possible for a person to carry the new coronavirus without showing symptoms. However, some groups, like senior citizens, are at an increased risk for complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To better serve their senior customers, Dollar General and Publix have announced special shopping hours. At Publix, senior shopping hours are for customers 65 and older and take place 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Publix pharmacy will also open at 7 a.m. on these days.
Dollar General, meanwhile, has dedicated the first hour of each operating day for senior customers.
"We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General CEO.
An article published Saturday by The News Courier announced the first change to the Athens Walmart's hours. By Thursday, it had been shared more than 550 times and reached nearly 22,000 people.
In that time, Walmart went from being open 24 hours a day to nearly half that. Starting Thursday, the store on U.S. 72 will be open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. All Auto Care services were suspended until further notice, and employees warned delays and extended wait times were possible as online order increased.
"Please bear with us," associates posted to the store's Facebook page. "Again, thank you for your business and we will continue to provide all that we can."
Publix amended its general hours companywide to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with in-store pharmacy hours now 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Pharmacies will maintain normal hours on Sundays, the company said in a statement.
All Dollar General locations will close one hour earlier than usual. Athens Walmart, Publix and Dollar General each said the changes allow employees to clean their stores, conduct additional sanitation and restock shelves so they can better serve customers.
"We appreciate your understanding and hope to be back to normal operations soon," Athens Walmart said in a Facebook post.