Snowstorms, persistent cold have retailers feeling the salt crunch

Rollier's hardware in Mt. Lebanon sold out of 45,000 pounds of rock salt in four hours on Monday.

Owner Doug Satterfield said the store sold out over the weekend and employees posted a sign a new shipment would be arriving Monday. Customers were waiting for the store to open that morning to purchase whatever was available to melt ice.

Rollier's isn't the only retailer facing shortages in rock salt, calcium and other ice-melting products. Home supply stores all over the area have reported either a dwindling stock or have completely sold out.

"What's caused this problem and shortage is that everybody's using the product," Mr. Satterfield said. "All over, it's been a very bad winter and the amount of supply that's bagged for each season has been totally exhausted. I'm constantly looking for more products each day from suppliers I don't usually buy from."

His hardware store was able to meet demand for most of the winter, but in the past few weeks, with back-to-back snowstorms and extended cold weather, supply has not been able to keep up with consumer demand.

William Eckenrode, a Mt. Lebanon resident, visited six different hardware and home supply stores in search of rock salt for his employer. Finally, a Home Depot employee referred him to a small family-owned shop that had a few bags left. He said he knew his neighbors were running out of rock salt, and wanted to do what he could to help.

"I ended up buying about eight extra 25-pound bags and just handed them out to my neighbors. Folks really needed them," he said.

Diane Dunbar, co-owner of Greentree Hardware, has had signs posted outside of her store for days warning customers that the store is sold out of ice-melting materials. Some of them are displayed on empty wooden pallets where 50-pound bags of rock salt used to sit. Her last shipment, which sold out last week, was bought from a supplier in New Hampshire after her usual local suppliers sold out.

"It's just a matter of every day you're searching high and low, trying to see if someone has something in," Ms. Dunbar said. "This is the most extreme I've ever seen. Combined with the extreme weather conditions, it's causing havoc."

Both retailers are hoping to have more product on the shelves today in anticipation for the next big storm.

The storm is projected to bring as much as a foot of snow to parts of eastern Pennsylvania on Thursday, but Pittsburgh is expected to miss the worst of it, with light snow over the next few days.

Manchester resident Jerome Akers, 69, has been searching the city for three days for rock salt to clear the walk at his home before the next snowfall. He said the shortage of ice-melting materials puts homeowners in a precarious position.

"It's unfortunate, especially when you're getting pressure from the city to have your walkways clean within 24 hours. We're only halfway through winter, so what are we supposed to do?"

Clarece Polke: or 412-263-1889.

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