Originally created 01/01/00

Water, gas sell fast day before rollover



It wasn't the mad rush most people expected.

Still, hoards of wary local residents continued stockpiling provisions such as bottled water, canned foods, batteries and gasoline as the last hours of 1999 ticked away.

The Winn-Dixie supermarket at Augusta Exchange shopping center sold 360 gallons of water Thursday and looked as though it would do the same Friday as customers bought cases at a time.

"I just had a lady come in and buy 15 cases; that's 45 gallons of water," said Sharon Powell, the store's co-manager. "She wanted to buy more, but I told her she couldn't buy that much."

Aside from a run on canned meats, the Kroger store at 2801 Washington Road didn't see the buying frenzy it saw Thursday.

"If people were hoarding, they did it prior to today," store manager Deborah Ellis said.

Shoppers across the area were pushing much more "balanced carts" Friday, company spokeswoman Susie Brower said.

"Water is still selling very well, but now people are buying things for New Year's Eve parties," she said.

Bottled water was a rare commodity in many Aiken grocery stores, too. Gurley's on the corner of Howlandville Road and South Carolina Highway 421 was sold out by noon Friday, said store manager Susan Wood. Centre South Food Lion and Bi-Lo on the city's south side still had water on the shelves, but supplies were getting low.

Ms. Wood says she can't restock until Monday, but Food Lion manager Allen Mack hopes to replenish his stock before he reopens the store this morning.

Though Food Lion normally remains open 24 hours a day, as a precaution the store closed at 11 p.m. Friday to make sure computers were in working order.

"This is simply a precaution. We expect to be open for business Saturday morning, and we expect to be fully stocked," he said.

He noted that tobacco products had been selling briskly, with people seeming to stock up.

Friday already was a busy day at most banks because of government paydays and the arrival of customers' Social Security and welfare checks.

Financial institutions across the country built cash reserves throughout 1999 in anticipation of massive withdrawals from customers afraid a Y2K computer error could wipe out their finances.

But local banks reported Friday was business as usual.

"In fact, it was slower than we thought it would be," said Tim Simmons, president of Aiken-based Security Federal Bank. "It wasn't busy at all for a Friday before a holiday."

Said SunTrust Bank's Augusta Vice President Bob Lambertson: "I think the survivalists were already prepared."

Glitch-free New Year's celebrations on the other side of the world did little to quell fears of some area residents who flocked to stores for preparedness supplies.

Tina Brown, shift supervisor for CVS Pharmacy on Wrightsboro Road, said a man who already had purchased six flashlights earlier in the week returned to buy more shortly after the store opened Friday.

"People are thinking like the world is going to end," she said.

Shooters gun shop nearly sold out of handgun ammunition Friday, as did some other shops and general merchandise stores. Gun and ammo sales this week were 10 times greater than normal for the year, manager Kenneth McGee said.

"Nobody wants to come straight out and say it, but people are buying because of Y2K," he said. "They would rather have it just to be safe."

Gasoline stations across the area were crowded but not to the point where lines developed at the pump. Most motorists were topping off tanks, and some were filling up five-gallon cans.

At Tosco Corp.'s Smile Gas chain, the most noticeable increase in revenues came from kerosene and propane sales, said Chuck Milton, Tosco's market manager.

The bulk of gas hoarding probably occurred weeks ago, said Marty Koger, co-owner of the Koger-Walters Amoco chain. He received a call earlier in December from one customer with 500 gallons of gas stored at his home, Mr. Koger said.

The man asked if there was an additive he could use to make the flammable fuel more stable, Mr. Koger said.

"I said, `Fella, I hope you don't live in my neighborhood,"' Mr. Koger said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486; and Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.