More than 200 customers were waiting outside Clarkston’s Costco when it opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with new rules in Washington state looming.

All businesses other than those identified as essential such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations have to close by tonight, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide order that runs through April 6 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

All social gatherings are banned and people are expected to stay home with some exceptions, such as obtaining medical care, exercising outside with family members and working in essential industries like emergency services.

Costco employees were ready for the large group of people Tuesday after the Monday announcement of the governor.

Extremely large numbers of shoppers have shown up at Costco two other times since coronavirus concerns surfaced following major news, said Clarkston store General Manager Alan Demers.

They let the first 125 in, waited three minutes and allowed another 75 customers in, and then permitted everyone else to enter after five minutes, partly so people could stay a healthy distance of 6 feet apart, Demers said.

“We’re doing the crowd control for both the safety of our members and employees,” he said.

The store has begun opening two hours early at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to give senior citizens and people with disabilities a time to make purchases in an unhurried environment.

Despite the long line before Costco opened, the atmosphere at the retailer was calm.

Minus a few things like hand sanitizer, people can still usually obtain the items they want because the store is getting daily deliveries, Demers said.

A number of shoppers left with carts packed full of nonperishable staples, but others had a handful of items.

Joe Key, of Lewiston, was taking Costco goods like bottled water to family members who needed them.

The way some individuals have been hoarding products they don’t need bothers him because it increases prices for others.

“That’s not the way our society should work,” he said. “We should take care of each other.”

Pat Schrupp and her husband, of Lewiston, had bought what they needed for the week, which has changed since the coronavirus. They no longer eat at restaurants or even go to drive-through windows.

“We have more dishes to do,” she said.

Similar to Costco, employees at other stores said they were low or out of certain items that have been made popular by worries about COVID-19, like certain types of cleaning supplies. But in general, the stores have full shelves.

They’ve also made adjustments. Dissmore’s IGA in Pullman began offering free delivery service for Pullman residents and curbside pickup for customers outside Pullman through April 15.

One of the challenges grocery stores have faced is an unexpected spike in demand for just a handful of goods, said Lucia Charley, a manager at Cloningers in Grangeville.

People stock up at the holidays, but stores have months to plan.

“You don’t normally have that many people want the exact same item,” she said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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