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SLO Oriental Market introduces curbside pickup during COVID-19 pandemic

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In the initial aftermath of the March 19 shelter-at-home order taking effect, panic buying ensued at supermarkets across the county. Toilet paper, hand sanitizers, frozen foods, staple items—all of them were flying off shelves as everyone filled their carts.

But SLO Oriental Market co-owner Fani Gau, said her store might have been San Luis Obispo's one exception during that period.

OPEN SHOP The SLO Oriental Market includes a variety of specialty items, such as mochi ice cream, imported beer, and ramen noodles on its shelves. - PHOTO BY FRANCICSO MARTINEZ
  • Photo By Francicso Martinez
  • OPEN SHOP The SLO Oriental Market includes a variety of specialty items, such as mochi ice cream, imported beer, and ramen noodles on its shelves.

The grocery store, specializing in selling Asian groceries and ingredients, is tucked away near the corner of Monterey and Johnson streets. Hidden on first glance from street view, Gau said people initially didn't know where the store's location is "or even that we're a store in town."

"We were kind of forgotten in a way, I feel," Gau told New Times. "At the beginning, I feel it was a little quieter because people were purchasing toilet paper and paper towels ... I don't think there was much of a need yet for other things."

New customers have been making their way to the store since then, Gau said, which happened through word-of-mouth from other clients. The store's specialized inventory has brought first-time clients to get items they may not find at other stores.

But new clientele has brought new difficulties, according to Gau. Some of the store's inventory has not been restocked for a while because of high demand across the board, which she called one of the biggest difficulties the store now faces. Tofu, for instance, was out of stock for a month.

There are upsides, however. The store offers curbside pickup for those who want to minimize interaction, Gau said, and the market allows older clients to shop when nobody is in the store to give them ease of mind.

"It helps that our store is not very big," she said. "Compared to big groceries, we don't get that much traffic so it makes it a little bit better for people who are trying to watch the [social] distancing and not being around a lot of people. That's been helping out a lot, too."

SLO Oriental Market had to change its hours and days of operation as well. The store is now open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is a reduction from its typical 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. business hours and being open weekends.

Gau made the decision to reduce hours. She said she and her husband wanted to protect their health and well-being, as she noticed more customers shopped during weekends.

"I feel like we cannot afford—for either of us—to get sick," she said, "because if we do, we'd have nobody to work our store."

But Gau noted the positive response from her customers amid the current situation to help the store out.

Some clients call ahead to make sure items are available so they can purchase them later. Social media outreach has been big as well, with the store posting on its Instagram and Facebook pages when items are restocked. And longtime customers have bought more than usual to make sure the store stays afloat, according to Gau.

"We're super grateful for all those customers that continue to shop with us during this pandemic," she said. "We appreciate all the support, we appreciate that they're sharing our store with their friends and their family. And we're just super grateful that we get to stay open and keep our store for now."

Fast facts

• The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) is offering "safety bags" to the North County homeless community prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the community. These bags include face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, along with food and safety products. ECHO representatives will hand out safety bags in areas where homeless people congregate, according to the organization.

• The Boys & Girls Club of South San Luis Obispo County is organizing a pen pal project for the club's youth members to interact with volunteers and mentors during the pandemic. Those in the project are encouraged to share their favorite indoor and outdoor activities, books, shows, sports, and more. Those interested in volunteering as a pen pal should contact bgcsloathome@gmail.com for more information. Δ

Editorial intern Francisco Martinez wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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