With another storm on the way at the end of the weekend, New Englanders are preparing a familiar routine: loading up on the ice melt to keep their sidewalks and driveways clear.
The extended cold this winter has prompted such a run on snow- and ice-melt products that many retailers said they are out of stock and having trouble getting resupplied. BJ’s Wholesale Club, for example, has had to find additional suppliers to keep up with demand after sales this winter have more than doubled.
“We are getting limited supplies of the snow melt to our distribution center, and it’s going out as quickly as it’s coming in,” BJ’s spokeswoman Kelly McFalls said. “Normally we get our snow melt from one vendor, but we are not getting enough.”
McFalls knows personally how acute the shortage is. When the barrel she bought from BJ’s earlier this year ran out, she could not find a refill from her own company — or any of the other big box retailers or hardware stores she also tried.
“It’s not just us,” added Ryan Phillips, a buyer for BJ’s. “The country had so many storms, so they [the vendors] can’t really keep up with the demand.”
Several hardware buyers said the situation was made worse by so many storms hitting Southern states that don’t typically need huge supplies of snow melt for the winter.
At Tags Hardware in Cambridge, intermittent shortages of ice melt turned into an outright drought for two solid weeks this winter. On Friday, the store had about 250 bags or containers of snow-melt products, but expected to sell them all by Sunday.
“We keep refreshing our distributors’ website to see if they have some because sometimes things can be gone as fast as 5 minutes off of there,” hardware manager Curtis Lawson said.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Rory Fitzgerald, cautioned people against using home-brew recipes to make their own because the usual chloride salt ingredients are corrosive.
Charles Street Supply, a hardware store on Beacon Hill, has been out of snow-melt products for several weeks now, and doesn’t expect a shipment before Monday.
“It has just been an abnormal year where it’s been super cold and it just doesn’t melt, and there’s a lot of snow,” said store clerk Robert White.
Many customers are resorting to less ideal products: sand or clay-based cat litter, neither of which melt snow or ice, but do provide traction.
“Our Kitty Litter sales have gone up tremendously,” said Phillips, the BJ’s buyer. “We have conversations every day with vendors about trying to get more. It’s not something we are walking away from.”
Meanwhile the current forecast does not offer much comfort.
Weather professionals are still entertaining different scenarios for how much snow could hit late Sunday into Monday, with the forecast ranging from light dusting to a heavy wallop, especially in southeastern New England.