The empty shelves of the South Loop’s grocery stores, in photos

March 26, 2020


As Chicagoans and Columbia students alike hunker down in their apartments as part of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” mandate, grocery store workers continue to report to the frontlines of the pandemic, re-stocking perpetually empty shelves.

Despite the “stay-at-home” order—in effect through April 7—residents are still permitted to grocery shop, and markets have been deemed “essential” to stay open. Take-out orders or deliveries from restaurants also are allowed.

In the early days of the pandemic, at the South Loop’s grocery stores most visited by Columbia students—Trader Joe’s, Target and Chinatown Market—shelves were picked clean of medications, meat, produce, toilet paper and cleaning supplies, to name a few.

However, several officials, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have advised against stockpiling goods. Although long lines have disappeared at many stores, supplies are still low as shoppers utilize grocery delivery or pick-up services to minimize social interaction as a precaution against the coronavirus, or COVID-19. In turn, this has caused many stores to put out a call for employment, including Trader Joe’s. Other stores, like Target, are adding hours specifically for older or immunocompromised shoppers.

At the same time, health is still a concern for employees. Trader Joe’s is allowing workers to be reimbursed for any sick time off due to respiratory illness, as reported March 5 by Business Insider.

Chronicle photojournalist Mengshin Lin journeyed out to capture the shopping pandemonium and the empty shelves that followed.