With the current gloom and doom of pandemic economics, the front windows at Island Ace Hardware on St. Simons Island featured something almost as rare as toilet paper these days: “Help Wanted” signs.
It seems more cashiers and sales floor folks are needed at Ace, where a steady flow of folks homebound by the coronavirus crisis are going stir crazy for projects to occupy their time. With people laid off from work or observing a self-imposed quarantine to combat the virus, home improvement and gardening projects appear to be cropping up in neighborhoods all over the island.
“It’s been crazy,” said store manager John Pryor. “People are looking for something to do around the house. They’re bored. Saturday was pandemonium from the second we opened the door till the time we closed it.”
The “Help Wanted” signs are not the only prominent notices at Ace, located in the Longview Plaza off Frederica Road. A sandwich board sign at the store entrance shouts “Covid-19” in bright red letters across the top. “Please Respect the Personal Space of our Employees and Customers. Thank you!” And beneath that a big red letter “6 FEET” reminds folks of the recommended social distancing footage.
In case customers forget, black tape marks large X’s on floor leading to the checkout line – spaced six feet apart. “Please stay behind the line until customer is finished at cashier,” another sign says.
The doors are kept open for now so folks do not have to touch the handles.
There was a steady stream of customers heading in and out of the store at midday Tuesday. House paint is a big seller right now, said store manager Chris Hart. Cleaning supplies too. Also, charcoal and propane since more folks are grilling at home rather than eating out.
John Melia and his adult daughter, Shay Oleivera, were there to get a vacuum cleaner, among other things. Oleivera had been helping dad get his St. Simons Island home in shape for what could be a long haul.
“We’re getting last-minute cleaning supplies before hunkering down,” Oleivera said.
“We’re trying to take the advice of the health authorities,” Melia said. “So we’ve got some work to do.”
Island Ace Hardware’s sister store, Ace Garden Center on Demere Road, also is doing brisk business, Hart said. At both stores, employees are taking extra care to keep everything clean and sanitized.
He expects the flow of customers to continue.
“They need supplies, they need things to do,” Hart said. “They’re also buying stuff for the yard so they can get outside. It’s therapy.”
Things are also picking up at Central Hardware at 1730 Norwich St. in Brunswick. “We’re having good business right now,” store owner Jimmy Shaw said. “But it always starts to pick up in March, so it’s hard to say. But we are seeing more people with home projects, fixing garden sprinklers or something like that.”
Disinfectants, rubber gloves and masks, however, sold out long ago, Shaw said. “And our suppliers are out too,” he said
Recently, he ordered 12 rolls of toilet paper, which is all a hardware store has any business making space for. Instead, he received 12 cases of toilet paper. “All of that got gone real quick,” he said.
Sales of one item in particular has picked up since the pandemic gained momentum. And this uptick in sales has Shaw mildly troubled.
“What’s kind of scary is all the handgun ammo we’re selling,” he said. “We’re sold out completely for 9-millimeter ammunition and our suppliers don’t have any in their stocks.”
Everything from .44 magnum to .357s to .38 caliber bullets also are selling fast, he said.
“What are these people getting ready for?” Shaw said. “Armageddon?”