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Road closures force Tri-City scramble for food

Grocery store managers had to do some scrambling Monday to adjust to road closures caused by the Mount St. Helens eruption.

All truck deliveries from Spokane, Yakima and Seattle were canceled and some stores ran short of such items as bread and dairy products by late Monday.

But none of them anticipated more than a one- or two-day delay in receiving food shipments. As one manager put it, "What we don't get one place, we'll get another."

Safeway, which usually distributes to the Tri-Cities from Spokane, has notified its Portland supply center that it may have to gear up to handle Tri-City store needs.

Frank Ulhman of the Richland Buttrey's store, said he had received no word on when his regular delivery truck, due Monday, might arrive. But he expected normal delivery today.

The problem seemed to be one of communications, as well as delay.

Because of phone line malfunctions and heavy telephone use, some store managers had trouble contacting major distribution centers to learn when they could expect deliveries.

"We can't even get calls through," said Loren Gilbert, manager of the IGA store in Kennewick.

Gilbert usually gets deliveries on Mondays and was anticipating bread and milk deliveries today.

A wholesale delivery firm which usually makes three of four truck runs daily to the Tri-Cities, wasn't answering its phone Monday in Spokane.

Kennewick Albertson's Assistant Manager Dan Williams said he anticipated no real problems except with bread, but because of the in-store bakery, that is not a big worry.

For Ron Hess of Templeman's Country Store, things were more difficult Hess gets all his fresh meat deliveries from Yakima and with no delivery Monday morning, he could do nothing but answer the telephone. "I'm totally dependent on those Yakima meat processing plants," he said.

For larger stores, it was a matter of making adjustments to get around blocked roads.

Dennis Walie, manager of the Pasco Mayfair store, said Spokane bread outlets were routing trucks through Idaho to the Tri-Cities.

Timely fresh fruit and produce deliveries to Mid-Columbia are expected, said Vince Locati of Pacific Fruit and Produce wholesale distributor. Locati pointed out that trucks bring those items in directly from California.

"Getting those trucks on to Spokane 'is another problem," he says.

All store managers in the area counting on no more than a few days delay in receiving regular grocery shipments. However, beyond a five-day period, things could get tighter.

Some stores would have to turn to other distribution centers to makeup for the delays in shipping from Spokane and Seattle.

As one store manager said, "If we don't get delivery by tomorrow, we could have some problems."