Overwhelmed by the crowds and picked-over shelves? Seek out these market alternatives to stock up on the essentials.
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MOUNT LAURAL, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES - 2014/08/28: Home Goods furnishing store exterior. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Credit: John Greim / Contributor / Getty Images

Does your grocery store feel picked over, overrun, or just too cramped for your preferred social distancing style? Grocery stores are certainly seeing an influx of shoppers who are clearing shelves and stockpiling for a quarantine. That leaves many of the necessities — milk, eggs, beans, and pasta — wiped out. But creative shoppers already know they don't need to rely on the traditional neighborhood supermarket for groceries and necessities. Many other stores, from pharmacies to home decor spots, actually stock great foods for the weeks you need to be inside your house and away from the public. If you need some food for your stores — and don't worry, we aren't running out of food — turn to one of these retailers instead to fill your shelves and fridge so you can then stay home and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

1. Farmers Markets

Farmers are still plucking radishes, root vegetables, and leafy greens from the ground, whether or not COVID is aware of their plans. That means they still have plenty of fresh produce for buyers like you — and now, more than ever, these farmers need you to buy from them. So if you're lucky enough to have farmers' markets open near you, this is the ultimate place to score fresh, locally-grown produce. Store what you can enjoy in three to five days in the fridge, and freeze or preserve the rest.

2. CSA Shares

If the farmers' markets are closed to keep crowds away, contact your local farmers and inquire about any available community-supported agriculture (CSA) options. Since many restaurants are running limited menus or are closed at the moment, farmers are likely to have excess supply from canceled orders. Ask about salad shares or produce boxes that you can either pick up or have dropped off via non-contact delivery.

3. Grocery Delivery Services

Search online for "grocery delivery services near me." Instacart, FreshDirect, Peapod, Shipt, and more might be able to deliver to your door — for a small, but very worth it, fee. Odds are, they'll know the stores that have greater stock so you don't have to drive from shop to shop to find what you need. Keep in mind, lots of stores are missing key merchandise right now, so your shopper may have to substitute or skip some of the items on your list. Still, you may soon find the fee is worth the reduction in headaches — and the use of hand sanitizer when you're out and about.

4. Home Decorating Stores

This one may surprise you, but savvy shoppers know this secret all too well: World Market, T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, HomeGoods and other home decore stores all contain robust pantry sections stocked with snacks, condiments, and other shelf-stable items like pasta and beans. Grab what you need for a few weeks to supplement your pantry — and grab an extra candle or two to dress up your table for all of the dining in ahead.

5. Pharmacies

CVS, Walgreens, and even small independent pharmacies are growing their food and drink aisles to include staples like eggs, butter, and milk. And — oh, how could we forget? — they often stock Ben & Jerry's, wine, and bags of candy, too. Keep an eye out for fresh fruit salads, roasted nuts, protein bars, single-serving snacks, and even baby food.

6. Restaurant Supply Stores

Kitchen gear retailers like Williams Sonoma frequently stock higher-end staples like pasta, sauces, spices, and even boxed cake mixes. It's worth pursuing the food section to round out a few meals. Warehouse-style restaurant supply stores, like Restaurant Depot, have more than pans and prep gear. Peek around, and they're often hiding dried pastas, jarred sauces, spices, and more to round out your pantry meals. Most of them don't even require a membership to shop.

7. Warehouse Clubs

Here's one time it pays to be a member: Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's, and other member-only warehouse clubs are likely slightly less crowded than traditional grocery stores. (The yearly membership fee does cut the possible crowd.) You'll find great value on bulk goods, cleaning supplies, and alcohol. (Anyone else craving a glass of wine?)

8. Specialty Grocery Stores

Visit your local Asian grocery for budget-friendly sauces, oils, rice, and meats. Or check out a Mexican market for chiles, fruits, vegetables, salsas, tortillas, and other south-of-the-border staples. Mediterranean shops should have more than enough lentils, quinoa, and couscous to last you until 2021. And look closely — many of these stores also stock necessities like toilet paper, bread, milk, and eggs.

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