Friday, September 24, 2021

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No Shortage of Shortages

Lumber. Flowers. Ketchup. Chlorine. Kayaks. There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of, well, shortages when it comes to products and supplies across the nation. It is predicted that this summer will bring a shortage of a wide array of items, affecting local establishments, their customers, and the economy in general.

So, what is to blame for all these shortages? It all points back to the covid-19 pandemic.

“I have worked in the building material business since 1970 and have never seen the supply situation in such terrible shape,” said Randy Cooper, owner of Custom Builder Supply Co. in Williamsburg. Cooper is seeing the effects of a shortage of lumber and other materials.

“There are quite a few reasons for the current crisis but it all boils down to simple supply and demand,” Cooper said.

Lumber mills shut down at the start of the pandemic, some staying closed for months. Dealers and distributors cut back on product, thinking building activity would be slow, but the opposite actually occurred.

“Stay-at-home orders and the fact that no one was eating out or traveling allowed homeowners to fix up their homes, add an addition or a new deck, and replace worn out windows and doors,” Cooper said. “Consumer activity also fueled a demand for autos, furniture, appliances, and you name it, causing shortages in virtually everything.”

A lack of truck drivers, wild fires, and the weather are also to blame for the lumber shortage, which has caused prices to triple over the past year. But those in the building industry aren’t the only ones feeling impacts.

Local florists are also seeing a shortage of plants and flowers, including common flowers typically easy to find such as roses, carnations, and hydrangeas. The reason? A lack of workers worldwide who have not returned after businesses were initially forced to shut down at the height of the pandemic. Weather has also been an issue, with South American countries experiencing more rain than usual, leading to a halt in exportation. Like lumber, the cost of flowers has also increased as a result.

“We have had to pass some of the rising costs along to our customers and we have also absorbed many of these costs,” said Arlene Aitken-Williams with Morrison’s Flowers & Gifts in Williamsburg.

Many people chose to send bouquets as gifts during the pandemic in lieu of meeting in person. Demand for flowers remains high.

“We have also found that during the covid shutdown, and now beyond, flowers and plants provide a means of comfort and beauty in the home, and demand is greater than ever before,” Aitken-Williams said.

More people are beginning to host weddings again, adding to the need for flowers.

In the summer of 2020, bicycles were hard to come by as more people were looking for outdoor activities. People continue to look for outdoor entertainment and it appears kayaks will be in short supply during the summer of 2021, along with chlorine for outdoor pools.

Meanwhile, in the food and beverage industry, there has been a run on everything from to-go containers to ketchup. Chick Fil A announced on May 12 it would be limiting the number of sauces provided to customers due to a shortage. A scarcity of bubble tea, or boba tea, is also imminent, with a spokesperson for the national chain Kung Fu Tea stating in April that it could become an issue during the summer. Kung Fu Tea, which is the country’s largest bubble tea chain, has locations in Williamsburg and Newport News.

Despite all the current hardships, the pandemic did have a silver lining, at least for one local business.

“The positive effect for us was that 2020 was the best year in sales since the 2008 recession,” Cooper said.

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