Editor's note: This article was last updated April 8 at 9:39 a.m. to change the headline for clarity.
CAPE CARTERET — The corporation that owns Lowe’s Home Improvement announced policy changes Thursday intended to improve safety for customers in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came in the wake of complaints locally and in other areas around the nation. In Carteret County, numerous residents voiced complaints about overcrowding and special crowd-enticing sales at area Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.
Thursday, Lowe’s corporate office website stated, “We developed an app to implement a new customer limit protocol, available now on associates’ handheld devices. Each store manager can now monitor foot traffic and limit entrance based on (Centers for Disease Control) and local guidelines.
“We are enhancing our social distancing protocols by adding dedicated social distancing ambassadors who will be responsible for monitoring customer flow in our garden centers and front-end areas and enforce customer limits to allow proper social distancing,” the statement continued.
The stores have also reduced hours to provide time for product replenishment and to clean and sanitize.
The Lowe’s Cape Carteret and Morehead City stores are closing at 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Also, as of Monday, the Cape Carteret store began limiting the number of people in the garden center to 50 at a time, according to Cape Carteret Commissioner Steve Martin. Morehead City Police Chief Bernette Morris said Tuesday the Morehead City store location had also begun implementing social distancing measures, including putting plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers.
The News-Times made repeated unsuccessful efforts to contact the Cape Carteret and Morehead City store managers by phone to see if those social distancing measures had been implemented.
Mr. Martin, however, said Lowe’s has also implemented the other measures, with markers indicating where people should stand in cash register lines and has opened up the aisles to create more space.
He also said the store has installed “sneeze barriers” for cashiers and has given employees pay raises.
Mr. Martin said Lowe’s has always been a great community partner.
“We’re in uncharted territory here, and everyone needs to pull together and do all we can to stay at home,” he said.
One Cape Carteret resident and businessman, Andy Wolfe, told the News-Times Saturday that while he understood the business sells essential supplies, such as materials needed by building contractors, plumbers and electricians for residential and commercial repairs, he didn’t understand how “flowers, garden supplies” and similar items can be considered essential. He also targeted home décor items as non-essential.
Mr. Wolfe, who owns Gotta Kill It to Grill It, which sells outdoor apparel and T-shirts, said he’s been concerned about the crowds at the Lowe’s in town.
“Either this (coronavirus) is serious or it isn’t,” he said. “Which is it? Here on the coast, people are sure acting like it’s not.”
Mr. Wolfe noted other big corporations had taken steps to reduce crowds in their stores.
“Walmart finally did it after they got called out,” he said.
Walmart is limiting the number of customers at any given time to 20% of each store’s capacity, implementing social distancing markers and sneeze guards at cash registers and restricting entrances so customers have one way in and out.
“It’s like vacation time down here,” Mr. Wolfe said Saturday. “It’s like the Fourth of July. If … there are hundreds of people packed together, then I’d say the chances are good it’s feeding it (spreading the virus).”
He also said the situation is unfair to small businesses like his.
“I haven’t made a dime in a month,” he added. “I can’t sell my products in stores or shows.”
Small business operators, he said, have bills to pay and families to feed like others who are out of jobs and can’t get unemployment benefits.
Mr. Martin said Lowe’s and other stores deemed essential under Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 27 stay-at-home order are complying, but he’d like to see everyone do more to help.
“Part of this is perception,” he said. “People see all these people coming out with flowers and plants, and they get concerned and frustrated. I understand that, and I understand Andy’s frustrations as a small businessman. I have been one.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.