SoCal Costco places purchasing limits on some items as panic buying creates long lines, supply shortages

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Some Costcos have taken to limiting the amount of certain products that can be purchased at a time as stores struggle to keep inventory amid a wave of panic buying spurred by fears of the coronavirus outbreak spreading.

Friday once again saw large crowds at some Southland Costco locations, including the one in Chino Hills, where about 200 people were already lined up 30 minutes prior to the store’s 10 a.m. opening.

About half the people KTLA spoke with in line said they were there to buy bottled water, toilet paper and other household essentials.

By 10:30 a.m., the store was sold out of some paper products and other items, according to customers. There was also a dwindling supply of bottled water, with members being limited to buying two cases per day.

“They don’t have enough water, they have no paper towels, no Clorox, no disinfectant stuff, nothing like cleaning,” Costco customer Cecilia Vasquez told KTLA.

The previous day, deputies and police were called out to the Chino Hills location after shoppers became angry when the store ran out of toilet paper and water.

Chaotic scenes have played out at other stores across the area, though none others drew a response from law enforcement.

Long lines that snaked around buildings and through parking lots, as well as depleted supplies, have also been reported at Costcos in Van Nuys, Burbank, Marina del Rey and Fullerton.

“It’s very unusual. You come here and by noon all the water be gone, all the bleach and hand sanitizers and everything else,” said Mundo Rodriguez, who was shopping at the Costco in Van Nuys on Friday. “We were here Wednesday getting a few things and it was a madhouse.”

Signs posted at the Woodland Hills locations on Thursday informed members that they would be limited to buying two packs of toilet paper and water per day, according to video from the scene. Similar notices were also visible at the one in Fullerton.

“This store is practically empty,” one frustrated Orange County customer told KTLA.

Another Costco member in Woodland Hills described the scene there as “crazy” and compared it to shopping on “Black Friday.”

Perhaps not surprisingly then, Costco sales were up more than 12% in February from a year ago. About 3% of that growth is credited to “an uptick in consumer demand” stemming from coronavirus fears, according to the company.

But Costco is hardly alone in dealing with high demand from shoppers who are racing to stock up on supplies as COVID-19 spreads.

Other big-box retailers like Target have also seen a run on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies like Clorox.

The Orange County Health Care Agency is warning consumers against panic buying, saying the act might temporarily calm worries about the coronavirus, but it could lead to other consequences like price surges and supply shortages.

Meanwhile, food samples — a popular staple at Costco — were also being temporarily stopped at the Chino Hills store. It was not known if the measure was just for the day or how long it would last.

Other stores in the U.S. and China have suspended samples as a precautionary measure, according to Business Insider, which confirmed the information with the company that handles Costco’s product demonstrations. It’s unclear how many would be impacted.

The news drew wide-ranging reaction on the fan Instagram account Costco Deals, which has more than 600,000 followers.

Some users lauded the move, while others lamented the loss of their beloved samples. One person said simply, “wow … this is getting out of hand!”

The post had received over 1,000 comments by noon Friday.

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