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Food still in short supply in hard-hit areas

Food supplies continue to run low in areas hardest hit by this week’s storm, but even as some relief begin trickling in, the disrupted supply chain is affecting stores across Western New York and beyond.

Tops Markets’ only food warehouse that supplies stores in Western New York, Rochester, Syracuse and Pennsylvania was buried in snow until Wednesday and still faces problems getting food and merchandise out onto store shelves.

About 10 Tops stores located in West Seneca, South Buffalo, Lancaster, Depew, Orchard Park, Hamburg, Cheektowaga and Derby are open and expected to remain so, but are “operating in a very limited capacity in terms of associates and products,” said Katie McKenna, a Tops spokeswoman. Milk, bread and eggs are gone at many of those stores or expected to be depleted soon, but grocery aisles “continue to be fairly well stocked,” McKenna said.

Grocery delivery is considered an essential service and is exempt from travel bans, so some food deliveries are taking place wherever roads are passable but even those face obstacles. An Arnold Bread truck, for example, was trapped on Transit Road for several hours Thursday before making it to Tops’ store on South Park Avenue.

“The theme is slow and steady,” McKenna said.

Stores outside areas hard hit by the storm are generally very well stocked, though some deliveries are delayed. Many third-party vendors are making it into stores, even some that don’t usually do direct-to-store deliveries, such as Kreher Farms eggs.

All hands were on deck at Tops, which was working with a reduced staff and had many associates working extended shifts to make up for employees who couldn’t safely make it to their stores. Even the executives pitched in, with CEO Frank Curci delivering plastic bags and shelf tags to stores in Rochester, and John Persons, senior vice president of operations, hand-delivering bundles of employee paychecks to several stores around Western New York.

Wegmans reopened its store at 4960 Transit Road in Depew on Thursday afternoon. That store, as well as ones in West Seneca and Blasdell had been closed since Tuesday.

The parking lot and roofs at the Depew store had been cleared of snow and the shelves there were stocked with food.

“We’re ready to go,” said Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokeswoman.

Though reduced, staffing was at “a pretty good level.”

The store was able to receive its regular delivery Wednesday night. Workers who had been stranded at the store or who were able to come in had been checking expiration dates and taking expired items off shelves.

The company hopes to reopen the West Seneca and Blasdell stores by Friday, but said that will depend on weather conditions.

Several food manufacturers and distributors are located in areas affected by the weather, which is disrupting the supply chain for grocers and retailers well outside the Southtowns.

Costanzo’s Bakery, which supplies bakery products to grocery stores and restaurants, was forced to shut down operations at its Innsbruck Drive facility in Cheektowaga on Tuesday.

“The bakery business deals in fresh product, so we can’t make up for business lost on Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Peter Bloom, CEO at Costanzo’s. “It’s not like people who missed a delivery are going to order three times as much on their next order, so it’s a loss for us.”

The Galbani Cheese factory on South Park Avenue shut down production when workers were prevented from traveling to or from the facility. Also hit was Tripifoods’ 250,000-square-foot distribution center at 1427 William St. near Bailey Avenue. That company supplies all manner of food, drinks and other merchandise to convenience stores throughout Western New York and in five other states. All three of wholesale grocer U.S. Foods’ Western New York distribution locations are within areas buried by the storm.

Tom Donnelly, general manager at Budwey’s Market in North Tonawanda has been in the grocery business for nearly 40 years, operating through the Blizzard of ’77 and spending many years operating grocery stores in the Southtowns. He said “everything has been affected by the storm,” but things are starting to pick up.

“People see, ‘Well, it’s sunny here,’ and they want to know, ‘Why don’t you have bread on the shelf?’ ” Donnelly said. “They don’t understand that the supply line gets broken, or that things are sitting in trailers stuck on the Thruway, or that facilities are bogged down in snow.”

Budwey’s is supplied by Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op in Olean, which was able to drive around storm-hit areas to make its deliveries in the Northtowns. For that reason, Budwey’s shelves have been “very minimally affected” by the storm, he said.

Grocery stores are generally faring well, Donnelly said, considering the magnitude of the storm, but he expects stores in the Southtowns to face more problems as roads begin to clear, travel bans are lifted and residents are able to get to stores to restock their pantries.

“When things shake loose in the Southtowns, it’s going to be bedlam,” he said. “People who have been stuck home are using up all their resources and once they get out – poof – things will disappear.”