All I wanted was a shovel.
In the midst of a record-setting Wisconsin winter, it didn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
But after recent stops at two big-box retailers and a hardware store in Eau Claire and two more big boxes in Lake Hallie, I gave up.
The classic snow-removal device was impossible to find. (Apparently, other local residents were much quicker to scoop up the shovels — and the snow — than me.)
Instead of snow shovels in my shopping excursions over the past few weeks, I found a lot of home and garden departments gearing up for spring with ample supplies of garden spades, rakes and hoses.
To be fair, I did find a couple stores with a few tiny vehicle shovels or shallow, pusher-style shovels not suited to heaving the huge amounts of snow repeatedly dumped on the Chippewa Valley this winter.
Matt Cadman, general manager of the new Fleet Farm store on Eau Claire’s south side, acknowledged the shovel shortage plaguing retailers across the state.
“We were out of shovels completely by the second week of February,” Cadman said. “We also sold out of snowblowers after the second big wave of snow.”
Cadman said Fleet Farm ordered a generous supply of snow-removal equipment, but managers couldn’t have foreseen this year’s record snowfall when those orders were placed up to a year in advance. It is indisputable that history is on his side.
Eau Claire shattered its all-time monthly snowfall record by getting 53.7 inches in February and through March 11 for the winter had received 87.4 inches — yes, that’s more than 7 feet, 3 inches of snow, or taller than any member of the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks. The season total ranks No. 2 since record-keeping began in 1893, and sits just 1.9 inches short of the record of 89.3 inches set in 1996-97, with a good month of potential snowfall season remaining.
Staff in a few of the local stores I visited indicated they had been attempting to replenish their shovel supply but were finding the items in short supply after heavier-than-normal snowfall in many regions of the country.
“We’re doing anything we can to get our hands on more snow removal tools...,” Cadman said. “There has just been incredible demand for anything that can remove snow. They’re hard to find anywhere in Wisconsin.”
He noted that some folks in late February were so desperate they were buying storage totes to move snow.
Thankfully, I wasn’t that desperate, even after donating a shovel to my son’s college house to help his roommates and him clear the snow holding their cars hostage after one of several major February snowstorms. (They had trouble finding a shovel too.) I have a working snowblower, one good scoop-style shovel and a couple of pusher-style shovels — a reasonable arsenal, in my opinion, to tackle a typical Wisconsin winter.
But this was no ordinary winter. The reason I wanted another traditional scoop-style shovel is that I viewed this as more of an all-hands-on-deck winter and was seeking a little help from my family to clear the driveway, deck and area around the mail and newspaper boxes. It offered a great opportunity for family bonding, I maintained, not really expecting anyone to fall for my pitch.
Still, we found a way to get by — at least once with my wife, son and daughter all pitching in at the same time wielding the miniature shovels from our trunks.
The next challenge, it appears, will be what happens when all of the snow melts. An abrupt warm-up last week gave us an early taste, closing schools and spurring flood warnings across the region.
No word yet on the supply of sump pumps at local retailers.