The bustling, shoulder-to-shoulder weekend crowds along Penn Avenue are now gone, replaced by an eerie emptiness as the world hunkers down in quarantine.

The Strip District, however, is still open for business.

As shoppers pour into Giant Eagle and other major chains around town — forcing many of them to limit the number of shoppers at one time — the city’s small, locally-owned grocers have room to spare and stocked shelves.

There is also, for once, plenty of parking. But don’t forget your masks!

At Penn Mac on a Saturday morning. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.

David Sunseri is on a one-man mission to save the Strip District.

The president of the third-generation, family-owned Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. — perhaps the best place to buy cheese and pasta in the region — has transformed “Penn Mac” to adjust to the new reality.

“You have to wear gloves (as well as masks) when you come in here, which we’re providing for free,” says Sunseri.

Even if you have your own gloves, you have to put on fresh ones, and you need to stay at least six feet from everyone. Glass barriers shield the register checkouts and some of the food.

“We’ve been pretty proactive making it safe for people in ‘the new normal,’” says Sunseri. “We’re very leery, if God forbid, someone comes in with that virus, it’ll put us out of business. We’re doing the best we can.”

He’s ordering takeout for dinner at local restaurants — that he has supplied for years — every night.

“We’re hurting too, but they’re hurting big time,” says Sunseri. “That’s what we’re trying to do as a team. Pretty much every day, I buy lunch for my entire staff from the restaurants that support us.” And he’s keeping all his employees on, even if there’s not enough work.

Online ordering is helping Penn Mac weather the storm. They also ship food just about anywhere.

“At this point we’re doing tremendous amounts of pickups in the car,” says Sunseri. “You place your order online or by phone, and we have it ready the next day. You just pull up in the alley, call our number and we bring it out to the car. It’s worked out pretty good.”

It’s been noted that a lot of people are baking bread in quarantine. That checks out at Penn Mac.

“The last three weeks our best selling items have been yeast and flour,” says Sunseri. “Eventually there will be a shortage because everyone’s baking. For Easter, a lot of people were making paska bread.”

Reyna Foods. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Reyna Foods

Reyna, the tiny Mexican grocer in the Strip, is still packed to the ceiling with pinatas and hot sauces, but there’s no need to worry about observing proper social distancing procedures. There just aren’t enough customers to make that necessary.

“We’re down to about a third or a fourth of our normal revenue,” says Linda Jones, who co-owns Reyna with Nick DiCio. “We still have business but it’s not even near what it was before.”

Everything is in stock right now.

Jones had been planning a trip to Mexico so she had the store organized and stocked for her departure. Now she has a stockpile of tortilla chips since restaurants are closed.

She was able to get a special Argentine dough for making empanadas awhile back, but doesn’t know if that will be as easily obtained in the future.

Some things are selling really well. “Tortillas, pre-made salsas, a lot of flours, rice and beans — staples like that are the big sellers,” says Jones. “When toilet paper was running out, we ran out of black beans.”

Cleaning is the main job when the store is empty. “I know that Cathy (Crosby, an employee) is really into always bleaching everything and cleaning everything,” says Jones. “ I think she’s taking it to another level now.”

While business has been slow, she’s hopeful for a boost from Cinco de Mayo.

“Cinco de Mayo is like Mexican Christmas for me,” explains Jones.

Customers find a new and safe way to shop at Stamoolis. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Stamoolis Brothers Co.

Greek and Mediterranean grocer Stamoolis Brothers isn’t letting people inside the store, but they’re definitely open.