Nearly-empty shelves beg the question: Is Charlotte hoarding toilet paper again?

Nearly-empty shelves beg the question: Is Charlotte hoarding toilet paper again?
Shelves for paper towels were empty Friday morning at the Publix store on South Tryon Street in Steele Creek. (Source: Catherine Muccigrosso CMUCCIGROSSO@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Is Charlotte hoarding toilet paper and other items again amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

As the new coronavirus cases in the U.S. surge, it appears people are once again stockpiling, national news outlets have reported this week. Apparently, hoarding of paper products is back ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday as the Carolinas reach near COVID-19 case peak levels of summer.

When the health crisis first hit in March, shortages from hoarding on items like paper products, water and cleaning supplies shot across the country, including the Charlotte region, as stay-at-home orders took effect. Local restaurants even offered a free roll with a purchase as grocery store supplies were depleted.

Now, some local retailers have limited supplies or are completely out of paper towels and toilet paper.

“I’m a little baffled as to why there’s a scarcity of these products,” said Richard Jones of Steele Creek. He picked up a pack of paper towels Friday morning at Target in Rivergate shopping center after finding shelves empty at the Publix store across the street. Signs on the shelves at the South Tryon Street Publix store limited all paper products to one per household “because of increased demand.”

“You can’t limit something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

A sign on the shelves at the Target said “due to demand” it is limiting one item per household for paper towels, toilet tissue and hand and facial wipes, as well as placing limits on other items.

And it’s not just here. Terry McMillian emailed a photo to the Observer of bare shelves at a Walmart at about 7 a.m. Wednesday in Sanford saying “No paper Items this morning.” He told the Observer it looked the same on Thursday.

While retailers are responding by limiting products like toilet paper and paper towels again, they also are assuring customers the product will continue to be stocked.

“There is no reason for people to purchase more of these items than they need,” said Matt Harakal, spokesman for Food Lion. “Supplies of these items are available in the supply chain.”

On Thursday, Harris Teeter’s product limit included paper towels, toilet tissue and household cleaning products. The Matthews-based grocer has had product limits of two items per customer since the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring.

The Harris Teeter on South Tryon Street in Steele Creek posted a sign on shelves Friday morning that the store was out of stock on toilet paper, sanitizing wipes and cleaners. It also had a limited supply of paper towels.

Some Walmart stores also are placing limits on products, company spokeswoman Casey Staheli said.

“We are seeing pockets of lower than normal availability in some communities on bath tissue and cleaning supplies, depending on what’s happening in the local area,” she said. “We will continue to keep a close eye on product availability and work with our supply chain to help meet customer demand.”

She said store managers decide whether item limits are needed. In Lake Wylie, there was limited paper products Friday morning with a sign asking guests to limit one purchase per household.

During periods of high demand, Walmart works with its supply chain to replenish items as quickly as possible by diverting products to areas as needed, coordinating supplier deliveries directly to stores and other measures to help meet customer needs, according to company officials.

Last week, Florida-based Publix implemented customer purchase limits on paper towels and bath tissue “due to much higher customer demand,” said company spokesman Jared Glover. Each store can set limits based on customer needs, as well.

“We continue to monitor other categories and adjust as necessary,” he said.

Other stores like discount-grocer Aldi may also adjust purchase limits, according to the company.

Salisbury-based Food Lion hasn’t added new limits recently, Harakal said. But some high demand products such as hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, bath tissue and paper towels have been limited since the start of the pandemic, he said.

Harakal said the availability of some products is impacted nationally, and the company is working with vendors and suppliers to get as much product into Food Lion stores as possible. There were limited supplies on Friday of paper products at the Lake Wylie store, just south of Steele Creek.

Procter & Gamble, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the U.S. based in Ohio, said on its Bounty paper towels and Charmin websites it is producing and shipping these products at record high levels and working to get it to retailers as fast as possible.

Dallas, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark is a producer of personal care products including brands like Scott, Cottonelle, Viva and Kleenex. The company is working to ensure a steady supply of products to stores and working with retailers to address inventory gaps, according to a statement emailed Friday to the Observer.

Other stores like discount-grocer Aldi may also adjust purchase limits, according to the company.

Salisbury-based Food Lion hasn’t added new limits recently, Harakal said. But some high demand products such as hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, bath tissue and paper towels have been limited since the start of the pandemic, he said.

Harakal said the availability of some products is impacted nationally, and the company is working with vendors and suppliers to get as much product into Food Lion stores as possible. There were limited supplies on Friday of paper products at the Lake Wylie store, just south of Steele Creek.

Procter & Gamble, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the U.S. based in Ohio, said on its Bounty paper towels and Charmin websites it is producing and shipping these products at record high levels and working to get it to retailers as fast as possible.

Dallas, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark is a producer of personal care products including brands like Scott, Cottonelle, Viva and Kleenex. The company is working to ensure a steady supply of products to stores and working with retailers to address inventory gaps, according to a statement emailed Friday to the Observer.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper launched a new statewide COVID-19 county-by-county alert system measuring the severity of coronavirus spread. Cooper and state health officials are urging everyone to use caution planning Thanksgiving Day events and to wear a mask, stand six feet apart and wash hands frequently. On Nov. 10, the gathering limit for indoor events was lowered from 25 people to 10. The state remains in Phase 3 of opening until at least Dec. 4.

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