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Shortages expected as holiday spending ramps up
In August, the Association of American Publishers announced that sales for consumer books were up 17 percent for the year, reflecting a strong demand.
Unfortunately, publishers and bookstores are wrestling with opposing forces: a pandemic-influenced paper shortage and the shipping bottlenecks delaying the transport of books from printers in China.
In better days, Split Rock Books in Cold Spring could expect to receive books in anywhere from a few days to two weeks, but deliveries now are sometimes taking six weeks, if that, said co-owner Heidi Bender. Publishers have also been delaying release dates, she noted.
Split Rock and other bookstores are warning customers: buy early for the holidays. “A lot of us thought it would be better this year, and it’s probably going to be worse,” Bender said.
Off the California coast, dozens of transport ships sit idle as they wait to unload containers filled with merchandise from Asia. There are fewer truck drivers to deliver them, and fewer warehouse workers to pack and ship orders. The combination is affecting the availability of a broad range of raw and finished products, including glass, wood and paper, and appliances, semiconductor chips and windshields, just as buyers begin opening their wallets for the holiday season.
Kelly Preusser, the owner of Grey Printing in Cold Spring, said she is bracing for tighter supplies for paper. Preusser said when she ordered paper two weeks ago, the salesperson was surprised it was available.
Toni Hacker, the owner of Beacon Mercantile, said she feels like a glass trader when getting up at 4 a.m. to look for containers to hold the candles she makes and sells at her Main Street shop. She likes to buy containers from U.S. manufacturers but that has become more difficult since Libbey Glass, based in Toledo, Ohio, filed for bankruptcy in June 2020.
Now, even at 4 a.m., she is not the only retailer looking for glass. “If I don’t order it right away, it’s gone,” she said.
At The Country Goose in Cold Spring, owner Leonora Burton is starting to see products arrive that she ordered months ago — if they arrive at all. She said she just received $600 worth of toys from a $1,500 order. The hand cream she ordered in July just arrived. Getting kitchen supplies is also a “little wonky” for a time when people are planning big meals, and kitchen towels are back-ordered.
“A lot of the distributers are just not able to get the stuff manufactured,” she said. “The toys are really problematic.”
Last year, Karen Finnegan delivered 200 gift packages to children in Beacon. The “star” of each package was a plush toy. She hoped to give away 400 packages this year, but the distributor she used last year said only 60 were available, and at higher prices. She has been searching overseas, but “there’s nothing.”
Her Plan B — to replace the plush toys with copies of a children’s book she wrote — has also been thwarted because of a shortage of paper. “My hands are tied,” she said.
On Wednesday (Oct. 13), President Joe Biden announced several strategies to speed up deliveries. The Port of Los Angeles, where 28 container ships were anchored offshore and another 16 due to arrive as of Thursday (Oct. 14), is expanding to 24/7 operation. The Port of Long Beach in California began operating around-the-clock last month.
Biden said members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union agreed to work extra shifts, and that six companies, including Walmart, FedEx and UPS, agreed to move 3,500 containers from the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach.