AUSTIN, Texas — When a disaster happens, oftentimes, members of the community flock to their local grocery stores and pharmacies to stock up on essentials.
When those shelves dry up, heads typically turn to convenience stores.
"We are trying to look into the future and be as proactive as we possibly can," said Shane Walker, the chief operating officer for the Greater Austin Merchants Association (GAMA).
The association supplies more than 550 convenience stores in 16 Texas counties.
Mubeen Enwer is a convenience store of multiple locations in Luling, Marble Falls, Burnet and Austin, Texas. As a member of GAMA, he shops at their warehouse to stock his stores.
While he usually has a plan in place for emergencies, he said it has been tougher than usual.
"It's hard to fill the shelves up like the way it was before," Enwer said.
The warehouse is constantly trying to re-stock sanitizer, toilet paper and water, which are all hot commodities right now.
Warehouses are having the same problem getting the essentials.
Despite this, GAMA is still running the same operation, just in a different way, Walker said.
Typically, merchants can walk into the warehouse and shop for their needs. However, for the safety of their employees, GAMA stopped its cash-and-carry service. Walker said that is a big portion of their sales.
Instead, the warehouse shifted to pick-up and delivery only.
"If we have the autonomies and freedoms to move around our warehouse and collect the goods and build the orders and those things, we are able to build those much faster and deliver to their stores much faster," he said.
The warehouse is sanitized throughout the day, employees wear gloves and masks, and they are encouraged to practice social distancing of six feet.
They are also limiting how much merchants can buy certain items from the warehouse.
Walker hopes the community recognizes the important role these workers play in serving them.
"Without these folks, you would have 45% of your convenience stores across 16 counties having to close because they can't get supplies," Walker said. "They are the place where [people] can go get the essential needs in this time of need. People need to realize what we are doing here is really important."
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