Friendly Market owner Dave Giesige had to think back to the Blizzard of 1978 to recall such a surge of customers dead set on stockpiling supplies during a crisis.
"It does compare to the blizzard," Giesige said. The difference is back in 1978, people were hoarding bread, milk and cigarettes.
"Now they are stocking up on toilet paper and meat," he said
"People are coming out of the woodwork," he said. "We have people coming in who I have never seen. It's hard to handle an onslaught like this."
The Celina grocery still had some toilet paper on the shelves and planned to make a phone call to add more of the coveted commodity to a supply truck coming in next week, Giesige said on Friday afternoon. As far as hand sanitizer, manufacturers can't keep up with demand.
"People need to think about other people" instead of hoarding items, he said. He stressed the importance of saving goods for older people at risk for the virus.
Wally Wagner, owner of Wagner's IGA in Minster, New Bremen and Fort Loramie, said he was shocked by the panic buying of toilet paper.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said, adding the rush followed Gov. Mike DeWine's Thursday afternoon announcement that he was ordering schools to close for three weeks.
"We had a lot of toilet paper in the back room," Wagner said Friday morning, but it was quickly snatched from the shelves. He hoped an ample supply will arrive by truck on Sunday, but the stores still won't have hand sanitizer.
"No one has that," he added.
In addition to groceries, Wagner's also has a Subway restaurant and deli department. Store employees frequently sanitize surfaces touched by customers. In the Subway store, customers who want refills are given new cups instead of refilling their original cups.
Dave Evers, owner of Wayne Street Market in Fort Recovery, said the number of customers hasn't changed, but the volume of purchases has soared.
"It's been like before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter," he said. Customers have been making large purchases of toilet paper and disinfectants, instead of food, though.
"We have been selling toilet paper by the case," Evers said on Friday, noting the store still had the product on the shelves. "We have been talking to our vendors, and they will keep us supplied."
While the store has sold out of hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes are available, Evers added.
Officials with Chief Supermarket in Celina and Coldwater also said the stores' shelves were void of toilet paper, but a supply truck was expected this weekend.
"Toilet paper has been flying off the shelves," said Julie Anderson, director of marketing for Fresh Encounters, Chief's parent company.
Company officials have been working with vendors to resupply stores. While the company has always stressed sanitary practices, the measures have increased.
"We've increased our frequency of sanitizing surfaces touched by customers," Anderson said.
A spokesperson for the St. Marys Kroger said on Friday morning that the store was out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The spokesperson declined to comment further and corporate officials could not be reached.
Officials at Walmart in Celina declined to comment on the impact of the coronavirus. A news release from the company states that staff are taking preventive measures to keep stores clean and maintain a healthy environment by cleaning daily. This includes using sanitizing solutions in high-touch, high-traffic areas.
Efforts are being made to replenish cleaning supplies and other products to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the news release.
No member businesses have reported changing hours or operations in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stacy Beougher said.
"I think everybody is operating as normal as far as we know," she told the newspaper.
Some special events have been canceled or postponed per Gov. Mike DeWine's directives, but for now, businesses appear to be operating as usual, she said.
"We're watching what happens. We're following the (federal and state) guidelines," she said. "We're a strong community and we'll get through this."
Beougher stressed that residents be vigilant and follow disease prevention guidelines.
"I hope people continue to support those businesses,' she said.
Diana Green of the St. Marys Chamber of Commerce said she has spoken with city officials, and a plan was ready should businesses continue to be affected or even be forced to close.
"Don't panic, but take what is being said seriously and just follow the instructions of our leaders, of our governor and our health department," Green said.
Events hosted by the chamber will proceed, but Green noted attendance for the smaller events tended to hover around 20 people, well below the threshold for a mass gathering, and the next event wouldn't be until April.
Gov. Mike DeWine's order to ban events attracting more than 100 people because of the coronavirus pandemic has already impacted some area bowling alleys.
A high school all-star bowling tournament that had been scheduled for today at Pla-Mor Lanes in Coldwater has been canceled.
"We had 80 bowlers coming in, and with parents and others it would have been 100-150 people. It's a bummer for the kids," Pla-Mor manager Lee Keaser said, noting the tournament was an invitational event attracting the top area youth bowlers.
Today's New Bremen Athletic Boosters fundraiser was canceled under the governor's mandate, according to Stephanie Alig, co-owner/manager of Speedway Lanes in New Bremen.
A Rotary Club dinner Speedway Lanes was hired to cater has also been postponed.
Bowling is rolling along unaltered, Alig said, although many league bowlers were concerned about the mandate's impact on their sport.
"All day, the phone has been ringing off the hook," she said on Thursday. "League bowling has not been affected yet."
Jay Gibson, owner of Varsity Lanes in St. Marys, said he hasn't had to cancel any bowling events or leagues but has concerns about the popular Queen of Hearts drawings.
"It's (Queen of Hearts) been drawing a pretty good crowd," Gibson said, estimating 300 to 400 people have been on hand for the drawing. Winners are required to be in attendance.
He said restaurants are exempt from the mandate, and the bowling alley includes food service. Varsity Lanes has stepped up efforts to ensure areas are disinfected to prevent the possible spread of the virus.
The number of bowlers at Community Lanes in Minster has been steady this week, according to owner Lori Davidson. She noted the governor's order to close schools for three weeks might result in more activity for her business.
"Kids will be looking for something to do with school being out," she said, remarking that more youth bowlers could turn to bowling to get out of the house.
The 58th annual Grand Lake Bowling Tournament kicks off this weekend and a little shuffling of teams is planned to keep the event under the 100-person limit.
"We'll cut down the size of our squads," said Tim Hagar, owner/general manager of Plaza Lanes in Celina.
He said the number of teams bowling at a time will be spread out over the duration of the tournament, which runs through May. The VFW tournament will feature only 12 teams - 60 bowlers - so it won't exceed the 100-person mark.
Food service plays an important role in the Pla-Mor Lanes operation. Keaser said the coronavirus concerns haven't cut into the food business.
"We will do the best to ensure the place is as clean as possible," Keaser said. "We're doubling down on everything we already do."
In addition to serving food in the lounge, Keaser said Pla-Mor has drive-thru service for customers to pick up their food, especially if they have concerns about eating in a restaurant.
Area restaurants have ramped up efforts to maintain high sanitary standards during the coronavirus pandemic and are striving to maintain sales during uncertain times.
"We have been using a ton of sanitizer," said Nicole Jeffries, a server at Beer Barrel Pizza and Grill in St. Marys. "All of the servers have their own bottle of sanitizer to use between customers. We're taking extra precautions as far as sanitation is concerned."
Although business has been good this week, Julie Fleck, co-owner of Bella's Italian Grille in Celina, said on Friday that she has been "looking for different ways to keep going in these uncertain times."
Concerned about a possible decline in customers, Fleck said she will begin delivery service next week.
"We will offer delivery to homes in the local community if they choose not to go out," Fleck said.
She said the delivery service extend to a 10-mile radius around Celina. She would consider delivering a large order outside the regular delivery area.
Fleck said the staff has been briefed on sanitation guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and the state. All tables are sanitized after each group of customers.
Thus far, business has been steady at CJ's HighMarks in Celina, according to manager Melissa Williams. She hopes customers will continue to support the restaurant.
"We're just waiting to see how it affects business," she said. "It's kind of early in the game."
Kerry Roberts, co-owner of C-Town Wings in Celina, said business has been steady this week but expressed apprehension about the future as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold.
"Who knows where this will go?" Roberts said, adding that he worries about a possible shutdown order for restaurants.
Like other restaurants, C-Town has stepped up sanitation procedures.
C-Town also provides carryout of its menu items.
Business was brisk as usual on Friday night at the St. Henry Nite Club, according to employee Angela Perin.
"We are as busy as we always are," she said, noting the restaurant was full and carryout business was strong.
The only change was the elimination of the salad bar because of sanitation concerns. Other procedures were as usual, she said.
"We're a small business, and we're pretty up on keeping clean," she said.
Stephanie Frank, employee of the Subway on East Market Street in Celina, said the sandwich shop has initiated new sanitation practices.
"We give customers a new cup for refills," she said, noting that customers are continuing to fill their own cups.
"We are wiping tables every one-half to one hour, even if no one was sitting there," Frank said.
She said business has been steady this week.
Local McDonald's restaurant officials declined to comment on how the coronavirus has affected their business, referring the newspaper to the corporate office.
"The health and wellbeing of our people, our customers and our communities is our highest priority and drives our decision making," a McDonald's corporate news release states. "As we proactively monitor the impact of the coronavirus, we are continuously evaluating our policies to provide flexibility and reasonable accommodations.
"We have implemented enhancements to bolster our standards, including: increasing the stock of sanitizing hand gel dispensers in the entrances and lobbies of our restaurants for customer use; increasing the cadence of sanitization of all surfaces and engagement kiosks, and disinfecting trays, dining tables and chairs after each use and reminding crew to always stay home when sick."
Company officials report McDonald's USA has decided to pay corporate-owned restaurant employees who are asked to quarantine for 14 days.
Officials at the area's largest employer, Crown Equipment Corp., continue to study how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the company, an executive said Friday.
"Right now we are evaluating the impact it will have on our business and our employees," Human resources vice president Randy Niekamp said. "Fortunately, we are not aware of any employee globally contracting the virus."
Layoffs issued last week were not due to the coronavirus, he said.
"(The layoff) was due to lower product demand," he added, declining to tell how many people were affected by the decision.
Crown's supply chain has not been impacted by the virus, he continued. The company is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including adding more hand sanitizer stations.
Crown is also assisting employees to "make sure they can get child care" in the wake of Gov. Mike DeWine's decision to close schools for three weeks.
Crown is based in New Bremen and also has a large plant in Celina as well as others in the United States and around the world.
The supply chain of another major local employer, Celina Aluminum Precision Technology in Celina, has held on despite the virus, according to vice president Tom Rable.
"Our affiliate in China is now able to supply parts," Rable said.
The Chinese plant's employees "went back to work on March 2 after being off for three weeks," he said. The plant had been shut down because of the outbreak in China.
Rable said CAPT had sufficient parts in its inventory to continue operations while the Chinese plant, one of the local plant's major suppliers, was offline.
In terms of preventing the spread of the virus, Rable said all associates have been instructed on sanitary practices. He noted the company installed 12 large hand sanitizer stations this week throughout the plant.
Celina UEC Cinema 5 and New Bremen's Lock One Theater will stay open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Van Wert's Niswonger Performing Arts Center, will close through April 6 due to the state ban on public performances, according to a news release.
"Finding Neverland," a Broadway musical initially set to take place today, has been canceled.
The I Am, He said concert booked for March 21 has been rescheduled for June 14.
Celina-UEC Cinema 5 will remain open unless otherwise directed by government mandates, general manage Josh Pierstorff said. Following the state directive banning gathering of 100 or more people, the theater is permitting up to 99 patrons per auditorium, Pierstorff said. The theater, according to its social media site, has also instructed employees to wash their hands hourly and is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and recommendations, among other actions.
Lock One Theater, too, is keeping its doors open.
As of Friday, Ohio day care facilities may remain open.
However, day cares could be closed in the future, Gov. Mike DeWine warned at a Friday news conference, encouraging parents to begin thinking about alternatives.
Medical officials recommend that parents who can pull their children out of day care should do so, DeWine said during the news conference broadcast on The Ohio Channel.
Unless children have a pre-existing medical condition, they likely would recover from the virus, DeWine said. However, they could still become carriers. The governor warned against having grandparents care for children due to the increased risk for the elderly.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has reportedly released protocols to day care supervisors on how to limit the spread of coronavirus. People who may be sick, including day care staffers, are asked to stay at home. As a result some facilities are short of staff, DeWine said. Regulations concerning staff-to-student ratios in day cares will be temporarily relaxed to help.
Liz Yost, an administrator at Little Flower Learning Center in Celina, said the facility would continue to operate unless the state mandated otherwise.
While most age group classes at Little Flower Learning Center are full, Yost said families looking for child care options could call to check availability.
"If parents are looking for care, they need to call ahead of time for information and follow any enrollment steps that any parent would come in and do on a regular basis."
Traci Lauth, an administrator at the TLC Learning Center in St. Marys, said her staff wants to help families looking for alternatives due to school closures, but they need to determine how to help the families with children already enrolled in before- and after-school programs. Lauth was waiting to hear from a state inspector on Friday on what the eased teacher-student ratios would mean for the facility.
- Daily Standard staff writers Sydney Albert, William Kincaid and Tom Millhouse contributed to this story.