Panic at the Trader Joe’s

I must preface with that these photographs here were made before the Illinois shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 21, 2020.  I can attest that for the past fortnight, the stores in my neighbourhood of Hyde Park in Chicago have been fully stocked.

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It is only human to fear the unknown and uncertain.  It is a primal instinct for survival and self preservation, and I have observed that no matter how intelligent and self-aware an individual may be, that fear is all too real and can lead to irrational action.  Hence why when a pandemic hits, such as the current COVID-19 event, people do questionable things such as hoard toilet paper.  Such acts appear ever apparent especially in supposedly developed societies, it seems, in which people have become so accustomed to daily comforts and modern conveniences that when some troubling and uncertain event threatens the existence of such things so many take for granted, people panic. 

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While doing my normal grocery shopping several weeks ago, seeing empty shelves at my local Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Target, I did not feel an urge to fall into the panic and hoard canned corned beef hash.  (Well, I did hoard, but it was for alcohol; I panic-bought a good amount of beers to supplement my already well-stocked cache of whisky.)  It was more likely due to my upbringing by parents who lived through war and survived brutal refugee camps, who have instilled in me just how good we have it in here and now–and to inheriting my mother’s habit of ensuring always having a buffer of at least three-months supply of toilet paper even in the best of times.  I knew in my mind that the supply chain in this country was robust enough to rebound from the initial spike in demand. And for groceries and toilet paper in Hyde Park, at least, it has.

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When Trader Joe’s first opened up in Hyde Park, I remember how annoying it was to do actual shopping there, as people often hung out and conversed in the middle of the aisles as though it was a social club.  Bugger, things have changed considerably since.

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What was surreal to me, however, was what I witnessed at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago.  As I looked around and saw empty shelves and long checkout queues, I had a flash back to a year and half ago at the same exact spot, when the preceding local grocery store at that same exact location closed down suddenly due to financial mismanagement.  As like it was now, people at that time panic-bought; however, back then, it was out of fear of missing out on bargain deals.  My take-away from both instances is that we human beings, no matter how evolved and developed we are, can be as simplistic as the common squirrel hoarding nuts before winter. 

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Treasure Island was a chain of grocery stores in Chicago. In October 2018, all of them shuttered suddenly due to their finances going arseways. A year later in October 2019, Trader Joe’s replaced it at the same space in Hyde Park.

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© Khoa Dao, K. Dao Photography, 80 Proof Photos

Author: Khoa A. Dao

Renaissance man with the temperament of a beagle; easily bored, needing to be active and explore, prone to picking fights with the Red Baron.

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