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Amid Paper Towel Buy-Up, Toilet Paper ‘Flying Off the Shelves’

Paper Towels Shortage

If you’re out of paper towels…you may be out of them for a little while. That’s because numerous grocery stores in the area are completely wiped out of paper towel stock, and there’s little available information about why it’s been decimated.

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Paper Towels Shortage

A shelving unit inside a Staples office supply store in Bethlehem Township, Northampton County is empty after customers purchased all the paper towels the store had in stock. Something similar happened with toilet paper in the spring, when the coronavirus pandemic began. Consumers, afraid they would be stuck at home for a long time, hoarded TP and other ‘staples.’

If you’re out of paper towels…you may be without them for a little while longer.

That’s because numerous grocery stores in the area are wiped out of paper towel stock, and there’s little information available about why it’s being decimated. All signs point to renewed panic-buying, however, as a result of COVID-19’s resurgence this fall.

Locally, statewide and nationally, record numbers of new cases are being reported almost daily.

On Wednesday, five Northampton County stores randomly visited by Saucon Source had few or no paper towel products in stock:

  • Lidl, 1120 S. 25th St., Easton
  • Aldi, 2510 Freemansburg Ave., Easton
  • Staples, 4403 Birkland Place, Easton
  • Lowe’s, 4443 Birkland Place, Easton
  • Giant, 1880 Leithsville Road, Hellertown

A manager at Lidl said the store had been out of paper towels for about a week, unless some were delivered and quickly snapped up on a day when she wasn’t at work.

The store receives truck deliveries each morning, she said, but those shipments apparently haven’t helped the situation.

The manager said she wasn’t sure why there’s a paper product shortage, but indicated she was aware that other grocery stores in the area have also been wiped out of paper towels.

Paper Towel Lidl

A wooden pallet marks the location where paper towels were recently stacked in the Lidl store on S. 25th Street in Easton.

“Throughout this period of high demand, we are working as hard as we can to ensure customers can get what they need,” a statement published on Lidl.com said. “We are limiting high-quantity purchases on a case-by-case basis, determined at the store level.”

Toilet paper is also “flying off the shelves,” the Lidl employee noted; an observation that may alarm some shoppers, since toilet paper became difficult to find in April after it was bought in staggering quantities by pandemic-panicked consumers in March.

There is evidently something very comforting about toilet paper and paper towels, and various news outlets attempted to explain the psychology behind the buying frenzy behind Charmin, Cottenelle et al.

(Although there was a statewide shutdown requiring most Pennsylvanians to stay-at-home for weeks, much of the panic-buying ultimately proved senseless, since grocery stores remained open as “life-sustaining” businesses throughout the pandemic.)

Many stores eventually placed limits on “high demand” items such as toilet paper, but in many cases they weren’t in place or weren’t enforced until the supply chains were broken.

Over the summer and into fall, limits were relaxed on some items that were hard to find in the spring and summer, and products such as hand sanitizer, disposable face masks and even instant coffee finally began to consistently reappear on supermarket shelves.

That’s another reason the sudden disappearance of paper towels and other paper products that is happening now might be disconcerting for consumers.

Mass psychology may be a factor in this new buying trend, with fears of a second wave of the virus causing another uptick in hoarding behavior.

Those fears aren’t completely unfounded, since new case counts in Pennsylvania have soared throughout November, with a new daily record set virtually every day.

On Wednesday, the state confirmed 5,488 new cases of the disease.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said last week that in spite of the unnerving numbers, the commonwealth has no plans for another shutdown in which residents of certain counties would be required to shelter-in-place again.

The good news in all of this? At least one local supermarket did have paper towels on Wednesday. The towel-friendly market turned out to be the Wegmans store in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

They even had Brawny.

If you need to purchase paper towels, toilet paper or something else that might be flying off the shelves these days, you may want to call your preferred supermarket ahead of time to see if they have it in stock or possibly find out when it might be restocked. Some companies also have information about product limits published on their websites, however consumers should be aware that any such information is subject to change.

The Lidl website is updated with product availability information and others may be, too.

“Our team is working around the clock to ensure product availability in store,” the company’s coronavirus information page says. “Customers have the ability to check on Lidl.com and on the myLidl app whether the products they are looking for are in stock before they visit their preferred Lidl store. Availability is updated every two hours throughout the day.”

Aldi also recommends that customers check with their local stores for the availability of products that might be in high demand.

“Our teams are working diligently to keep our shelves stocked and we are continuing to react to the Covid-19 situation,” the company’s latest COVID-19 update said. “However, due to increased demand, some inventory may be temporary unavailable. Please check your local store for details.”

On its site, Giant management said “there’s plenty of food (and paper goods) in the supply chain” but noted that customers are being asked to purchase only what they need.

“To help ensure we can serve all of our customers, and reduce out-of-stocks, we currently have purchase limits on certain products for both in-store and Giant Direct purchases,” the statement said. “There will be signage in-store and alerts online, communicating which products have limits.”

Paper Towel Aldi

Paper towels are conspicuously absent from the Aldi on Freemansburg Avenue in Easton on Wednesday.

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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at josh@sauconsource.com.

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