LORAIN, Ohio — The only light in the parking lot came from inside the grocery store.
In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, Gina Horton, the store manager at the Apples in Lorain, waited to greet customers.
The store opened up at 6 a.m. so people 65 years old and older could shop unencumbered.
"This, this I love," said Lynn McKenna. "You're not getting pushed out of the way or they're grabbing things out of your hands."
McKenna was at the grocer with her husband, John. The couple was at the store when it opened. She was hoping to get ingredients for chili and waiting to find a sense of normalcy.
"I'm not safe at the store," McKenna told Horton at the beginning of her trip. McKenna saw reports of crowded stores, empty shelves and stressed out people over the last week and decided she would wait to shop. About 30 people showed up for an hour of shopping before the store opened for other shoppers.
Horton said they wouldn't turn customers away but they encouraged younger shoppers to wait until 7 a.m. Several stores in Northeast Ohio opened up to senior shoppers to try and lower exposure to COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus disproportionately impacts people over 55-years-old. Local, state and federal leaders encourage people to stay 6 feet away from each other, practice self-isolation, avoid crowds of 10 or more and wash hands frequently. The deadly virus is spreading rapidly across the country.
As of 5 p.m. on March 17, there were 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio. "I think this helps ease their mind," Horton said. "So they can stay in and have the groceries they need and they won't have to go out."
The store was relatively well-stocked with essentials. They were out of bleach wipes and most of their soap.
However, most people shopping Tuesday morning were waiting in the back for ground meat. One wanted to know if he could get donuts delivered. "Before this happened, I think seniors, they didn't get (their) time, their special time," said Lucious Paige. "And they deserve it."
The 66-year-old Paige said this really worked well for him. He works overnights and this was the first time we made it to the store and didn't have to push through people.
"This is like heaven," McKenna said. "Without being run over, you know?"
The store is planning on being open at 6 a.m. on March 18 and 19. Horton said they are still working on future plans.