At the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, shelves were emptied and shoppers, including those in rural Arizona, scrambled. Months afterward, cleaning and paper products remain scarce.
Micheal Brown, manager for the Morenci Ace Hardware, said he has roughly 20% of what used to be on his shelves in paper and cleaning products. Brown refers to these supplies as COVID-19 products. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes remain scarce due to supplier shortages, Brown said.
“Everyone wants Purell and they’re having such an issue trying to fill their orders, they in a sense, are not able to fulfill their orders to all the different suppliers,” said Brown. “ Right now that’s one of the things I’m not being able to buy through ACE Hardware’s Purell brand hand sanitizer. I can get other brands and I do have other brands on the shelf.”
In an effort to curb hoarding early on, Brown said the Morenci Ace Hardware store put purchase limiting restrictions on cleaning and paper products. Currently, Brown said he is selling individual rolls of toilet paper but has difficulty keeping the larger bundles stocked.
“We want to be able to support the community, we want to be able to have some for as many people who need it without having someone come in and hoard everything,” said Brown. “We’ve tried to help the community out by putting those limitations in so we can help as many people as we are able to.”
In Willcox, Cheryl Moss, a co-owner of the MaidRite Feed Store, says she has not seen her shelves restocked with any cleaning supplies since early March. The store does have toilet paper on the shelves, but only three or four rolls.
“We’ve always had cleaning supplies,” said Moss. “But cleaning supplies, we’ve never gotten back. We just can’t get them.”
Moss said MaidRite Feeds was never a large supplier of cleaning supplies to the Willcox community. However, what little supplies were available in her store are now backlogged and her shelves remain empty of the disinfecting products.
When asked if hoarding within the Willcox area could remain a reason for the lack of product, Moss laughed. According to Moss, the cleaning products in brands such as Lysol and Clorox have never returned to shelves and made available to hoard.
Bashas’ grocery store, a familiar entity in Morenci and Safford, is no different from other outlets when it comes to empty shelves.
Ashly Shick, Bashas’ grocery store director of communications and public affairs, said hoarding is not an option for Bashas’ shoppers since purchase restrictions are in place. However, the companies that are attempting to create the cleaning and paper products are behind in production, creating an automatic shortage.
Shick said Bashas’ noticed an increase in purchasing at the beginning of the pandemic and placed purchasing limitations. However, following the initial onslaught of increased purchasing, it has put a longer-term strain on the supply chain as a whole.
‘We need a little bit of time for manufacturers and production facilities to ramp back up to the amount that we need to fill the shelves. It’s taken a few months for everything to catch back up from a production standpoint,” said Schick. “We have not been able to get the amount that we have been ordering from them.”
Schick said Bashas’ is trying to encourage customers to only buy what they need, hoping to avoid an over-purchase mentality.
Delia Garcia Sr., a director of communications for Walmart, said Walmart stores are not going untouched by the production lull either.
“We are aware that suppliers are stepping up and responding to customer demand by adjusting their assortment and prioritizing production of high demand items. Many suppliers are also considering how they can adjust production to meet customer demand for popular products,” wrote Garcia via email. “For example, one supplier is re-purposing a production line dedicated to manufacturing glue and switching to producing hand sanitizer.”
Garcia also said Walmart has authorized store managers to limit the sales of items that are in unusually high demand.
“...Customer buying patterns have changed from the initial preparation/panic buying phases to a more sustained level as they’ve adjusted to extended stay at home routines…” wrote Garcia.
In Willcox, Ace Hardware owner Mark Koelzer is viewing the shortages with determination yet amazement.
“It’s going to be a while for all these companies to get back up to where they once were. I’ve been in business for over 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this happen before where basically almost every supplier is backlogged,” Koelzer. Said. “ Luckily, we’re still getting some of the basics, but when it comes to paper goods and cleaning supplies there’s a whole lot of that I haven’t seen since early March.”
Koelzer said he is trying to find other sources for cleaning supplies, which is why he has been able to sell the necessities.
He agreed the first round of shopping was a matter of hoarding but the hoarding buying has dispersed and the issue now is production shortages.
“Basically the whole world wants their product right now and if they were shut down for a month then that’s 30 days worth of manufacturing they’re behind on now,” said Koelzer. “We realize how much Willcox depends on us and that’s why we were out trying to find toilet paper, especially at the beginning, we probably brought hand sanitizer in from about a dozen different suppliers. We were trying to take care of the community.”