It began with a run on toilet paper. Then it spread to hand sanitizer. And now disinfectant wipes, disposable gloves and medical-grade face masks are impossible to find.

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It began with a run on toilet paper. Then it spread to hand sanitizer. And now disinfectant wipes, disposable gloves and medical-grade face masks are impossible to find.

As empty shelves greet nervous shoppers in many stores, the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in some even stranger shortages.

Reports of difficulty finding webcams and freezers have popped up now, too. With people working from home and needing to connect with others through video conferencing, webcam purchases have jumped accordingly. The Canadian website for Logitech, one of the biggest webcam brands in the world, is completely sold out, owing to demand.

The situation is the same at Best Buy; there are none available in the chain's Winnipeg stores and only a few available on the website for backorder; most are sold out.

People hoping to purchase a freezer to store extra food will find themselves similarly out of luck, with local stores down to their last few or, in some cases, none at all.

Harold Kriewald, the owner of local retailer Stalwart Appliances, said he noticed more freezer inquiries about a month ago.

When he tried to replenish his stock, he was told there was a widespread shortage and even manufacturers were sold out.

"There was a huge, huge surge in demand for small freezers for the most part, but all freezers in general," he said.

"We had notifications from a number of manufacturers that they were completely out, that there was no more to get for some period of time, and if there were, there were just small numbers available," he said.

When Stalwart Appliances owner Harold Kriewald tried to replenish his stock of freezers, he was told there was a widespread shortage and even manufacturers were sold out. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)

When Stalwart Appliances owner Harold Kriewald tried to replenish his stock of freezers, he was told there was a widespread shortage and even manufacturers were sold out. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press)

He recalled a recent situation where he said a representative for a freezer manufacturer looking to purchase one for his family had to drive to Portage la Prairie to find one, and it was a display unit.

"That’s how scarce they were," Kriewald said.

Stalwart Appliances now receives phone calls asking about freezers every day, and there's no doubt it's because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It’s absolutely connected, absolutely," he said.

"Because normally, freezer business is in the fall. People buy lots of freezers in the fall because they’ve harvested their gardens, they’ve bought meat, you see an uptick in sales normally in the fall.

"But I’ve never seen this many freezers sold at this time of year. Never. It’s directly related to the pandemic."

The uncertainty about the length of time people will be stuck at home — with or without jobs — may have also had an impact, Kriewald said.

"People had money, so they said, ‘let’s buy it now,’ he said.

He attributed the rapid response "a lot to panic" as well.

"People are buying meat and things and freezing it, worried they’ll have no food. Clearly there’s a fear out there," he said, adding he didn't think the response was unreasonable.

Consumers stocked up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer when the pandemic first took hold. Now other items are becoming harder to find. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Consumers stocked up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer when the pandemic first took hold. Now other items are becoming harder to find. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"I think buying 400 rolls of toilet paper is stupid," he said. "But having a freezer if you’ve got six kids to feed, and you don’t know where your money’s coming from but you have some, and you want to buy some meat ahead of time or frozen vegetables, it’s not unreasonable."

It’s not just new territory for consumers, however; Kriewald said his family business, which has been operational since 1951, has never faced a challenge quite like the one it is facing now.

"As a man in business, normally I can call a mentor or someone who’s been around longer than I have and ask, ‘Hey, so when this happened, what did you guys do?’" he said.

"There’s nobody. There’s no one. There’s no one who has experienced this before. So it’s very isolating, yet we’re all in the same boat. It’s the weirdest feeling."

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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