This spring is shaping up like most springs for Adam Hagan, owner of Madison Park Hardware, a normal spring, when activity starts to slowly pick up as more people get out of their homes and think about home projects.
It is decidedly unlike spring 2020.
Late winter and early spring last year was normal enough, Hagan said. Until it wasn’t.
When Gov. Jay Inslee issued a shelter in place order, many businesses had to close, whereas Madison Park Hardware could stay open and serve patrons’ needs.
“We’re an essential business, I guess you’d call us,” Hagan said.
So, what began as a normal spring last year, soon became hectic, as people turned to Madison Park Hardware and others like it to buy items people needed during their extended time at home.
As a result, Hagan saw an increase in business, which wasn’t necessarily unusual for the time of year.
“The intensity of the uptick in business was surprising,” Hagan said, adding it seemed everybody was coming to the neighborhood store at once to buy things.
While on the surface, additional business during an uncertain times was a good problem to have, but Hagan points out, it came with disadvantages.
“It’s sort a the catch 22 because you’re exposed to everybody, as well,” he said, adding fortunately Seattle residents are pretty good at following safety rules.
Another catch 22 was on a bigger scale: the ability for merchants to keep up with demand and their shelves stocked.
Hagan said, unlike others, last year a great many people wanted to plant vegetable gardens. Madison Park Hardware typically sells 100 packets of seeds a season. In 2020, however, he sold 300.
“We don’t know if people ate what they grew, or whatever came out of the projects,” he said.
Whatever the outcome, it soon became apparent for Hagan that 300 seed packets was fine in a normal year, but not for 2020, and soon he was out of seeds.
The seeds were just the beginning, however.
When the store ran out of something — seeds, pots, soil, cleaning supplies, puzzles — they couldn’t fill the shelves fast enough, or in some cases, at all.
“I’ve spend more time this past year ordering things than ever before,” Hagan said. “The effort to get inventory has been double. The inventory received has been the same, or less.”
While demand played into the problem, the bigger issue was the strain placed on the supply chain.
In some cases, companies were not able to keep up with demand for some products, or they stopped or slowed production of some items in favor of others. Then there were delays in the delivery system caused by shortages of cargo containers, backups at ports, fewer trucks or companies operating with fewer staff.
“Everything’s just been a log jam,” Hagan said.
Hagan has been able to restock his shelves in most cases — his seed display is once again full. Some merchandise such as canning items — to store the surplus veggies — he is still waiting on, and he has been told he may not receive some things until the second or third quarters.
“It’s just catching up more than anything,” Hagan said.
A few blocks away, Cookin’ at Madison Park owner John Sheard and manager Jan Yoder have also stayed busy this past year.
Because the specialty cooking store also sells a few food items, Cookin’ at Madison Park was able to open back up sooner than other businesses.
Yoder said they have been fortunate to stay busy, which she attributes to people sheltering in place and having more time to try new things out in the kitchen or engaging their children through cooking or baking.
“They’re just trying out new things that they might not normally have time to do,” she said, adding baking break and making homemade pizza being two of the things she’s heard about most.
Parents are also incorporating cooking and baking into their children’s science or math lessons, Yoder said.
Mostly, Sheard said, with restaurants closed or open for limited business, and people relying on themselves for their meals, they have been coming to Cookin’ at Madison Park to replace everyday items.
“Once people started literally cooking three meals a day from their kitchen they realized they needed a better spatula, a new cutting board, new measuring cups,” Sheard said.
Yoder said, of the bigger purchases, people have taken money they would have spent elsewhere, like on a vacation, and used it to treat themselves to an upgrade.
“Also, people are going out of their way to support small businesses, independent businesses, and they’re verbally saying that,” Yoder said.
Many new customers are also coming into the business, although that isn’t necessarily attributable to the pandemic, Sheard said. Even before the pandemic, Cookin’ at Madison Park has garnered more traffic simply because there are fewer specialty cooking stores open these days, and he and Yoder think this will continue post-pandemic.
“Plus, people are really trying to stay off Amazon,” Yoder said.