Lines were long all day Wednesday at grocery stores and food companies around central Arkansas as shoppers got last-minute items for Thanksgiving. And, whether they plan to cook it or simply serve it, some are going to extreme lengths to get ready.
Rosa Rice said she drove from Pine Bluff to the Honeybaked Ham location on Rodney Parham Drive in Little Rock to pick up a ham and sides. Once there, she found a line that extended 100 feet out the door.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen this line this long at all. And I come every holiday!”
Many people waited to pick up items they had pre-ordered, but Rice said she shows up without reserving anything. “This is fun,” she explained. “I love it! And it’s worth the drive; I drive from Pine Bluff all the time to here.”
Michael Forester, the store’s general manager, said the line had been longer around lunchtime, as the Thanksgiving shoppers combined with people wanting a sandwich. By evening, the line shrunk enough to fit inside the store, but never emptied.
The convenience of having a main dish and sides already prepared meant that waiting in line might save those shoppers a lot of time on Thanksgiving Day.
Grocery stores were packed, too, and many of the shoppers at Edwards Food Giant did not want to be chefs, either.
“The last few years, my mom has spent the whole, entire day in the kitchen,” Will Adams explained, “and so we don’t get to hang out with her. So, I was just like, okay, not gonna do that this year. I’m gonna buy everything, take care of it, and she won’t have to spend the day in the kitchen.”
Adams ordered a smoked turkey from Edwards Food Giant Wednesday afternoon and said he had picked up nearly everything else for his family’s meal from Catering to You. “Great place, love that place. Took about 20 minutes, but they’re slammed,” he said. “This place is pretty bad, too. I’m worried about checking out, but it’ll be okay.”
Ryan Vaught, store manager for Edwards Food Giant, said he started ordering and preparing for Thanksgiving back in August. He said it rates, along with Christmastime, as one of the busiest periods of the year at his store.
“Oh, yeah, we definitely have to hire extra people,” he mentioned, “[and] make sure we have plenty of product on the shelf. Vendors send in support, you know, just to make sure that we’re all ready to go once the doors open and customers start hitting us.”
For a store where meat is its bread and butter, Vaught was proud to say that roughly 1,000 people pre-ordered turkeys this year. He estimated that 150 wanted them smoked, but he said most just wanted their favorite brand.
“A lot of it comes back to, probably, family tradition,” he explained. “You know, their family’s always grown up with one specific brand, or one specific type of turkey or ham, and then they want to keep those traditions going.”
Vaught said the biggest change in this year’s shopping pattern has been sales of wine. The State of Arkansas recently changed the law to expand the types of wines available for purchase at grocery stores. Edwards Food Giant just received its new wines one week ago, and Vaught said sales are already quadruple what they had been.
The other change in shopping trends baffled him. “Pepperidge Farm stuffing. I’m not sure what the deal is this year,” he stated, “but people love it.”
While the long checkout lines and crowded parking lot are great for business, Vaught said he and his staff cannot wait for 2:00 p.m. when the store closes for the holiday and the shoppers are finally gone.
“I just ordered Little Caesar’s pizza for the whole store,” he mentioned, “so we’ll have a couple rounds of Little Caesar’s pizzas coming through to keep everybody going.”
Honeybaked Ham will stay open until at least 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night, but it will be closed Thanksgiving Day.