Hardware stores tackle challenges of pandemic
by JASON MEREL
While running a local hardware store during a pandemic may have its benefits, with essential items almost guaranteed to sell out and people having more time to work on spring projects around the house, it has its challenges as well.
Limited supply, high demand and changes in recommendations from public health officials regarding social distancing have been keeping Ed Coren, manager of Edgebrook Ace Hardware, 5423 W. Devon Ave., and Joe Gillman, owner of H & B True Value, 5329 N. Milwaukee Ave., on their toes.
"I check suppliers every day of the week," Coren said. "I have to check on my days off now. If you don’t get in line to order it from suppliers, you’ll never get it."
Over at True Value, Gillman said he’s also been checking supply availability daily and if products become available locally he’ll drive to pick them up. "If it isn’t available locally I still try to get it ordered and have them FedEx it to me," he said.
Demand is not only limited to cleaning supplies and paper products and Gillman said he started selling a washable cotton mask that has been a popular alternative to the disposable masks many people are wearing.
Coren said bandannas have also been selling a lot and a large delivery of disposable surgical masks came in Monday, April 20. He added that in the first weeks of the stay-at-home order, the Edgebrook Ace Hardware store received a shipment of N95 masks and decided to donate them to a variety of first responders including nurses at area hospitals and the local CFD Engine 79 fire station at 6424 N. Lehigh Ave.
The reliance on social media only accelerates how quickly products move off shelves and even with a limit of one per customer Coren said that shipments of certain products are gone within hours.
To make things more difficult, recommendations offered by public health officials are updated weekly and municipalities have responded in a variety of ways. Skokie, Niles and Morton Grove, among others, announced recently that masks are required to be worn in stores and in any public areas where a person cannot reasonably social distance themselves by at least 6 feet.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not announced a similar requirement for Chicago as of press time but some stores like Coren’s in Edgebrook require all employees to wear masks. He also said that hours have been shortened to allow more time to disinfect the store at the end of the day and that they have added lines on the floor to help maintain social distancing in the checkout line.
Gillman said that masks are available for employees.
"I told employees if they don’t feel comfortable working to let me know and we’ll figure something out but no one’s called off," Gillman said. "We’ve got a good group of people working here," adding that hand washing has been a frequent ritual.
Gillman said that the H&B True Value store has not announced curbside pick-up plans at this time. Coren said Edgebrook Ace Hardware is taking phone and online orders for curbside pick-up but people can still come in to the store to save time and browse if they don’t know exactly which item or part they’re looking for.