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Coronavirus concerns bring out the worst and best in shoppers

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Costco customers formed a queue to exit the warehouse Thursday in Iwilei.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Costco customers formed a queue to exit the warehouse Thursday in Iwilei.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Jaren Manumaleuna from Laie loaded up a truck Thursday with supplies bought from Costco in Iwilei. The Manumaleuna household is a family of eight. “I think everybody should be stocking up and preparing … (with) what’s going on with the world right now,” said Manumaleuna.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Jaren Manumaleuna from Laie loaded up a truck Thursday with supplies bought from Costco in Iwilei. The Manumaleuna household is a family of eight. “I think everybody should be stocking up and preparing … (with) what’s going on with the world right now,” said Manumaleuna.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Over 100 people stood in line to get their hands on toilet paper.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Over 100 people stood in line to get their hands on toilet paper.

Many big-box shoppers maintained a sense of humor and kindness, while others fought over the last roll of toilet paper Thursday after coronavirus fears prompted hoarding, resulting in shortages.

“I feel like a sweepstakes winner,” said Larry Hagmann, 51, of Kaneohe, who stood in line at Costco Iwilei for an estimated 20 minutes for toilet paper. “It’s crazy. We needed it, though. We were getting ready to order it from Amazon.”

The threat of the coronavirus had Costco workers wiping down cart handles and seats with disinfecting wipes, but carts were in short supply.

More than 130 people were in line midafternoon Thursday, as the line snaked around in a giant U from the back of the warehouse to a few aisles from the front, then across and around to the back near the dairy section where workers doled out the paper goods.

Costco employees acted as security to maintain order, directing customers to the back of the line for toilet paper and paper towels.

One worker said fights broke out in the morning over the paper products.

Waikiki resident Cynthia Reed, 59, said a neighbor told her that “a lady got pushed to the ground.”

Her friend Nia Alfulaij, 35, said of the one-package-per-Costco-member policy, “It’s a very good system. They’re making sure people are not hoarding.”

But Gary Tanouye of Kailua suggested, “Should make a drive-thru,” adding it could be staged like a car wash, with three cash registers.

He and several others returned to the Iwilei Costco in anticipation of a Thursday delivery after the stores ran out of the 30-roll packages.

Rita Bechtelheimer, a Moiliili woman in her 60s, stood in the long queue for her neighbor. “I have some but my neighbor is desperate. I said, ‘I’ll stop at Costco for you.’”

“The Lord is good. He provides everything we need, even toilet paper,” she said with a laugh.

Costco Hawaii Kai ran out of toilet paper at 2:30 p.m., one shopper said.

“It’s a madhouse in there,” said Edwina Higa, 68, of Kahala, at the Hawaii Kai store. “I don’t even see it this busy at Christmas time. … People are panicking.” Her daughter, Davelyn Farm, 47, of Kaneohe, said, “I’m not panicking. I’m just stocking up because I literally don’t have any toilet paper.”

Hawaii Kai also ran out of Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach.

But one thing was not in short supply: neighborliness and kindness.

Laurel Ackerson, 52, of Hawaii Kai was assisting a 74-year-old Waimanalo woman load her car with some necessities.

“You’re so sweet,” Joan Nueku said to the younger woman.

Nueku, who lives alone, bought dog food, puppy pads and a little food for herself, along with toilet paper.

Ackerson said she has an anthropological interest in people’s shopping habits at Costco.

“Brought my mom a week ago, and we stood around laughing,” she said. “I just come back to watch.”

“Now it’s a pandemic,” Ackerson said. “People get it. We might make fun, but we cover (our fear) with humor because we don’t know what else to do.”

She said if she stayed at home, “I might cry and panic and worry.”

Rose, a 70-year-old Kamehameha Heights woman, said smiling outside the Iwilei Costco, “I got enough to hunker down now. I don’t have to shop anymore. If the coronavirus comes, I’m ready.”

Stan Rosen, 70, of Moiliili said buying toilet paper may just be a psychological response to something they can do nothing about.

“They’ve done something proactive,” he said.

Rosen, who visited Long Beach, Calif., for Thanksgiving, said he was sick since then and recovered only two days earlier from what he believes was the coronavirus. He had fever for a couple of days and a dry cough so bad he couldn’t say five words without coughing.

His doctor dismissed it as an allergy and put him on steroids. His lungs were scarred from coughing so much, he said.

It made him wonder, “How are you going to come up with accurate numbers without testing?”

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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