Business has been booming at Kramer's

Demand for groceries, other items has kept local store unusually busy during pandemic

Seeing empty shelves at the grocery store during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic created feelings of anxiety in many shoppers.

And in Ron Ludwigson, who, with wife Kim, owns Kramer Foods in Hinsdale.

"To see all the shelves empty and to know you can't fill them up with the next truck coming, it was difficult," Ron said. "Our supplier would only let us order 10 percent more than we normally order. That wasn't keeping our shelves full."

At times, their inventory of certain items was completely exhausted.

"One time we didn't have a loaf of bread on the shelf," he said. "No eggs. The meat case was wiped out. No paper products."

They sold out of milk. Home Run Inn frozen pizzas. And saw an unanticipated spike in the demand for postage.

"People are coming up and buying stamps because they were spending their time corresponding with people," Kim recalled.

A day after Gov. JB Pritzker's March 13 announcement that he was closing public schools for two weeks, Kramer's launched an online shopping service. Fortunately, the project already had been in the works.

"It was 95 percent ready to go at the time," Ron said. "We just had to fine tune a few of the minor details.

"It was a learning experience," he added.

The site was so popular, staff had a tough time keeping up.

"At one point it was over a week to get an order on our online store and three days for an email order," Ron said. "Now it's the next day, sometimes the same day."

Many of those online shoppers have returned to the store with Pritzker's lifting of the stay-at-home order last week.

"We've been seeing a lot of the people in the store last week that were placing the orders," Ron said. "They're back to shopping."

Kramer's will continue to offer its online service and delivery through GoFr Corp., a new Hinsdale business. Although the store reinstated its regular hours this week, the first half-hour each day still is reserved for senior citizens.

"At the beginning, it was almost worse to come in senior time because there were so many seniors. It's leveled out," he said.

Keeping the shelves stocked also is less of a challenge, Ron said, although disinfecting wipes and sprays and cleaning supplies are still hard to come by. Recent reports of an anticipated drop in meat processing fortunately did not affect Kramer's.

"We did pretty good with meat, actually. I was worried about it. We've been able to get the majority of the products that we need," Ron said.

The pandemic called attention to some products the store had offered for some time, including the dinner entrées available in the deli. The meals have been popular - especially among the Ludwigsons.

"This is the only place we've eaten since this started. We eat there almost every night," he said.

The store also saw an increase in requests for vitamins and supplements and now carries quite a few options, said Amy Ludwigson, who works at the store with her parents.

"We just got a lot of the classic multivitamins," she said. "The magnesium 'Calm' has been the best seller. We sell out of it every time it comes in."

Collagen powder and immune-boosting products have been popular as well. The section likely will expand when more products are available.

"There's probably 10 items that I've ordered that haven't come in yet," Amy said.

The Ludwigsons truly appreciate the willing attitude of the staff during this challenging time.

"Employees have been great, pitching in and doing whatever they can to keep the shelves full and the customers happy," Ron said.

They volunteered to come in on their days off, Kim said. Others postponed their vacations until things calmed down, Ron said.

Customers have stepped up as well.

"We had many, many customers volunteering to do things, deliver anywhere, from college kids to well-known people in town volunteer their time," Ron said. "That's very interesting the way the community comes together."

Customers' generosity - and their gratitude - helped boost the family's spirits. Kim recalled one shopper who came up to the office counter, her voice filled with emotion, to offer her thanks.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," she said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean