Where To Stock Up On Hurricane Supplies When The Grocery Stores Run Dry—Updated

If you haven’t been stocking up by the time a hurricane forms in the Gulf of Mexico, chances are you will be greeted with empty grocery store shelves—especially the bottled water aisle. So, it’s important to think outside the box and look in stores that don’t occur to everyone.

Updated, 8/24/17, 1:30 p.m.: The smaller grocery store chains, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, might still be worth a stop. Reader Catherine Forkner reports the Trader Joe’s location on Westheimer at Kirkwood was, “quite devoid of people, but had plenty of supplies.”

By the way, you’d think Amazon PrimeNow would be a good option, but it’s not. As of this writing (done at a time when soon-to-be Hurricane Harvey is spinning up in the Gulf) PrimeNow was woefully low on batteries (only 9 volts were available) and bottled water (only six packs of overpriced Fiji and glass bottles of Perrier were in stock). That’s a pretty big black mark on a service that should have known better and been exceptionally stocked up on these items. Learn better for next time, Amazon.

Instacart is a better option as it pulls from multiple stores, such as Costco, which still had big, inexpensive 24-packs of bottled water available for the same zip codes that we checked in the Amazon PrimeNow app.

A word on bottled water: plastic bottles are causing huge environmental issues, so do the world a favor and recycle the empties. Better still: pick up a big, insulated water cooler (like the ones used at sports games and construction sites), clean it, fill it with water at home and avoid all those plastic bottles altogether.

In addition, fill up the refrigerator fridge and freezer with various empty vessels full of water. Don’t ignore containers just sitting around, like snazzy water bottles, tumblers, pitchers, wine bottles and big plastic bottles that previously held juice or milk. (Obviously, thoroughly clean all containers with hot, soapy water first.) Any containers that don’t fit in the fridge can be stored elsewhere. Plastic food storage containers (like disposable Glad, ZipLock and other brands) make big blocks of ice that will not melt as fast as bagged, cubed ice.

The local drug store may still have bagged ice and water and will likely still have first aid supplies. Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons

Drug Stores: Walgreens, CVS and the like all carry bottled water, bags of ice, non-perishable snacks and even a small selection of canned foods. At the same time, replenish first aid supplies, like pain relievers, ice packs (the kind that work by chemical reaction as your freezer might not have power), cold medicine, gauze, bandages, antibiotic ointment and the like.

Truck Stops: You might have to take a short drive to hit up one just outside of the suburbs (well before the storm hits, please) but you will be gloating over a personal supply of Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets and jerky later. Alone. In the dark. You’ll be a weirdo, but a happy one.

hurricane supply cart
A well-stocked hurricane supply cart only if you’re single, optimistic and plan to cook that Italian sausage and eat it all when you get home. Photo by Bethany King via Flickr Creative Commons

Liquor Stores: The larger Spec’s stores (especially downtown) have sizable grocery sections. Some even have fresh produce. Keep an eye out for items like citrus will last for a long time with no refrigeration. (All those salty snacks really will get tiresome after awhile.) Small neighborhood shops might still have bottled water. Don’t forget to pick up whiskey for “medical reasons.” We hear it’s a great analgesic.

Dollar Stores: People think of dollar stores when it comes to getting plastic hangers, but forget that these are also a source of bottled water and cheap nonperishable food items. Some even have refrigerator sections. When the power comes back on but grocery store trucks haven’t been able to get back to Houston and restock, this might be your best hope of finding fresh milk for your kids.

IKEA: Everyone’s favorite Swedish assemble-it-yourself furniture store has an entire grocery section, and much of what is stocked is nonperishable. That includes canned meat and fish, chips, pickles, jellies, chocolate bars (very important), cookies, ciders and more.

Gas Stations: Think neighborhood convenience stores, not the ones next to a main thoroughfare. These may still have batteries and bottled water, as well as bags of ice, plenty of snacks and some non-perishable food like canned soup. Plus, you can pick up a six-pack while you’re there. You’re gonna need it.

Specialty Food Stores: While everyone else is barnstorming H-E-B, you can stock up for a Mediterranean feast of dried fruits, nuts and fish preserved  in olive oil at Phoenicia. Or, head to Seiwa or Nippon Daido for a selection of tasty Japanese snacks and pre-prepared green tea. (If you’re going to have access to hot water, packaged miso soup is quite good.) If you’ve never tried Vietnamese style beef jerky, shrimp chips or rice crackers, visit Viet Hoa or Hong Kong Food Market. Just because the power is out doesn’t mean it can’t be a culinary adventure.

Sporting Goods Stores: As any camper knows, Academy, REI and Sports Authority carry valuable hurricane supplies like energy bars, MREs, drinks with electrolytes, snacks and water. On the “hardware” side, wood for smokers (may as well barbecue that meat after it defrosts), grills, charcoal, first aid supplies, camp stoves and water coolers are all extremely useful when the power is out.

Office Supply Stores: Office Depot and Office Max aren’t going to have “groceries,” per se, but they do carry items often stocked in office kitchens. That includes bottled water and big packs of chips, soda and cookies. Watch out for those big tins of addictive Danish butter cookies.

Hardware Stores: Not much in the way of food at Home Depot and Lowes, but while you’re picking up plywood, flashlights or even a generator, you might spot some Gatorade and water.

Above all, be patient, keep your cool and be exceptionally kind to cashiers and other store employees. They are spending time they would rather be using for their own preparations to help you get what you need.

Huge thanks go to Ellie Sharp, Scott Sandlin and Sandra Cook for contributing their ideas to this article. 

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  • August 25, 2017 at 10:34 amSusan M Ross

    This is a great lost. Also chrck oit your local dollar stores ( mines is dollar tree, dollar king, and 1.25 only store) and 99 cents only store. They usully have fresh veggies and frozen meats and usually get a good amount of fresh bread regularly.