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Grocery and retail stores, restaurants struggle with getting products on time

An ongoing shipping problem and supply chain issue is hampering multiple types of local businesses and organizations as the holidays approach.

Grocery stores face shortages on seemingly random products or brands, restaurants go week to week, uncertain of whether the foods used to prepare mainstay menu items will arrive on time, or at all. Meanwhile, retail stores that typically prepare for the Christmas season by placing orders months in advance are facing the prospect to scaling back shopping options because products are arriving late or not showing up at all.

"For all of our Christmas products that we ordered … that we expected to have in August and September, we are just now getting," said Vintage Cottage Owner Kimberly Dellinger. "I have probably received two thirds to three quarters of our product. The rest of it is all back-ordered and not expected until mid-December, or they are not coming at all."

She added the orders for the late arriving holiday products will likely get canceled, since mid-December is so close to Christmas.

Walt Blind, who manages the local Ray's Food Place grocery store, has encountered a continually shifting landscape that has forced him to get creative with product orders.

"The soda makers, they have shortages in aluminum, so they aren't making all of the many, many flavors they used to carry," he offered as an example. Blind went on to recall a conversation with a Franz employee who revealed that donut options from the company could change.

"He is saying that the donuts Franz makes mostly come from a plant they have up in Seattle," he said. "They normally have like 300 employees and (now) they have 150. So, he is anticipating that there is going to be some shortage of donuts."

Blind said "these things pop up randomly here and there" in part because of both shipping and supply issues as well as a lack of qualified employees.

Like Dellinger, Blind has faced challenges with holiday product orders. He said they order Christmas items during the spring and though they have been fortunate and gotten some of the product, "there are things here and there that I know are being delayed and haven't gotten here yet."

Jim Roths, who owns Dillons Grill and Club Pioneer, has had to spend extra time and energy in order to keep menus as consistent as possible. When they place food orders online, they will often find that preferred brands are not available and have to search for substitutions.

"Right now, we are kind of rotating between anything we can get our hands on," he said.

When he can't find suitable substitutions from vendors, they make trips to regional grocers and go shopping for foods to help fill out the menus.

And sometimes, he can't find any options for a particular item, which forces them to temporarily remove menu items.

"In that case, we just inform our guests that we don't have it," Roths said. "The main thing is we keep the guests informed and hopefully they will be patient with us."

The challenges that these and other local industries face have further reaching implications. For example, the Holiday Partnership is leaning more heavily this year on food drives to collect enough items to fill food boxes for families in need. In addition, organizers are planning to take earlier shopping trips to help fill gift tags, out of concern that shelves might get too empty as the holidays approach.

However, the challenges have not yet shut down an event or business as entities have managed to adapt to the continual supply chain challenges. Blind notes that Ray's may have gaps in its shelves but has so far been OK. Roths said that the food shortages have not "completely stalled us out. Most items we can still get." Meanwhile, Dellinger is watching her customer base adapt. She has heard many people voice concerns about the shipping issues and supply chains and has seen some people get an early start.

"I have had a few customers come in who are just finishing their Christmas shopping because they are so afraid that (stores) won't get enough product. They are trying to get done early."

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