SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Tri-County Produce owner John Dixon says in 35 years he has never seen anything like it, and he's happy to keep his rustic warehouse-style market roaring during the coronavirus crisis.
Demand has shot up very fast. Business has tripled this month since the virus issue has sent customers charging into stores for essentials and healthier foods.
"We have not been overwhelmed to have too many customers at one time, but we have had a consistent flow of customers for the past 12 days," said owner John Dixon. He says a good defense against illness is fresh fruits and vegetables. "If all of us can do that year-round, we would be in much better shape and live a lot longer. In times like this people are buying more of that right now."
The top sellers are fresh juices with orange juice as number one. Customers see it being made right in front of them.
Rick Klakeg is dropping oranges into the machine and filling containers. "We literally run this every day periodically throughout the day, 364 days a year. Here we are fresh, ready to go." That area also has carrot juice, tea, and lemonade also made in the store.
The staff size at the store has also increased. Some have started the day they applied and were put right to work.
"We hired 12 people in two days, and we will probably be hiring more as this business continues. We were lucky enough to have a few of them that have worked in the grocery industry before, so that is the big bonus," said Dixon.
He says the employees have no shortage of work. "Even if it is to bag groceries, get shopping carts, or do cleaning and sanitizing."
So far he says there have not been major delays, possibly because of the layout. Dixon says he has enough of everything someone will need to get through the current situation. He also has limits on purchases and encourages "sharing is caring." Signs are posted all around the store on lower Milpas Street.
A newly stocked product has been locally produced: hand sanitizer. It is made in Ventura. The first shipment was 100 bottles. It's a tall pink bottle right at the registers and on the way out, customers are grabbing one at a time when other stores have empty shelves.
"I said 'how soon can you bring me another 500, maybe another 1,000 bottles?' We are limiting one bottle per customer and they are flying off the shelves."
Due to recent demands, Dixon is adding bulk items of rice and pinto beans as well.
He also has buying power because of his ties that go back three decades.
"We are able to do that. Increase those orders overnight and make those phone calls and get that stuff in here ASAP. I have gone out with my own vehicle and picked up lots of merchandise to get it here quickly."
The region is also solid with greens of all types. "From Santa Maria to Oxnard and everything in between - big advantages."
Out back after a delivery truck left Dixon said, "and we're stocking our store as fast as we can. We put it up on the shelf, and it goes out by the end of the day or tomorrow and we get another delivery, so we are doing our best."
By the front door, "we have stocked up on plenty of water, rice and pinto beans, bulk foods, flour and we have been getting those loads in every day," he said. His supply lasts because there are limits.
Friendly reminders are all over the store.
The store is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
For more information go to Tri-County Produce.
(More details and video will be posted later today).