Steven Cales and his mother, Bonnie, outside the Kroger grocery store in Hinton. Photo by Alexa Beyer

HINTON – Steven Cales is sitting in his truck outside the Kroger waiting for his mom, Bonnie, to come out. He has a hospital bracelet on his wrist and a bandage wrapped around his elbow, souvenirs from his doctor’s visit this morning to evaluate the heart problems he’s had on and off for the past ten years. He says the combination of rising prices and low availability makes it harder for him to stay on the diet his doctor recommends. 

“The ginger ale zero sugar soda that I liked, they discontinued it,” he said. “They discontinued the citrus drop zero sugars.”

The guilt-free soda made it easier to cut out meat like his doctor advised. 

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Bonnie Cales comes outside with a cart of groceries and after Steven helps her unload them, they get to talking about all the roads that locals have given their own names to. There’s the road by the cemetery — that’s “Possum Holler Road.” Then there’s the road they call “‘Cinerator”, short for incinerator. There’s “Dead Man’s Turn,” and there’s even one named after Bonnie’s dad’s side of the family, because so many of them used to live nearby. 

It became difficult for Steven to find the products that he and his family needed around the start of the pandemic, and he says that it has more or less remained difficult since then. His mom now pays over twice the price for canned cat food. 

“I think a lot of it is price gouging,” Bonnie said. “These stores are getting rich.”

They don’t discuss inflation as a national talking point, but as the uncomfortable reality they have to stare down in the Hinton Kroger parking lot.

“It’s hard on a person if they’re just getting a check just once a month,” Steven said.

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Alexa Beyer is the Environment and Energy reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.