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As Big Box Stores See Run On Staples, Local Asian Market Sells Out Of Rice

Stacks of rice.
Robbie Gaffney

As stores across town struggle to keep toilet paper and hand sanitizer on the shelves, a small grocery store in Tallahassee is experiencing a different kind of shortage. New Seoul Oriental Market isn't lacking rice. There are 50-pound bags stacked near shelves. However,  owner Seunghwan Lee, who goes by Swan, says most people don't want to buy those big bags. Before COVID-19, he never stocked them. Now, Swan has to the buy 50-pound bags if he wants to have rice in his store. That's because the smaller bags are harder to get due to a demand surge. 

"Here I saw a lot of people buy water and toilet paper something like that, but... for most Asians, their first concern is rice," Swan says, "A lot of people like from Korea or China or like Vietnam and also other countries... Their parents or they themselves experienced war. So without toilet paper, they can survive, but without rice, there's nothing to eat."

Man smiles at camera.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Swan, owner of New Seoul Oriental Market says 15-pound bags have been in high demand.

COVID-19 has coincided with spring break, and Swan's not sure what the impacts of the virus will be to his business. Right now, he's selling a lot of rice and instant noodles.

"Short-term people buy more to stock up. But in the long-term, I don't know," Swan says.

He notes that not many people are out on the road, and some customers come in with gloves and masks while others don't want to come into the store at all.

"They call, and then they open the back door of their car, and they put the rice, and they want me to wear gloves and then take their credit card and then give back to them. So I have seen a couple of cases of that," Swan says. 

Still, many customers walk in, pick what they need, and buy it. Swan hopes to keep his store open as long as he can.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.