High demand for beer and building supplies | News

Certain local service and product suppliers are busier than ever meeting market demand not in spite of the pandemic and hurricanes but because of those factors. These pockets of intense trade might not be tantamount to reversing the economic effects of the pandemic, oil crisis and hurricanes on the local economy, but according to George Swift, president/CEO SWLA Economic Development Alliance, local small businesses employ about 50 percent of the workforce. That’s significant. For these businesses, the struggle is making necessary property repairs, keeping pace with the demand and maintaining staffing.

COVID stay-at-home orders increased demand for home improvement and building materials. The hurricanes increased it even more.

“The pandemic and two hurricanes have made this our busiest year on record,” said Jeremy Stine of Stine Lumber, “and we have been fortunate to serve our communities and give back, not only to charitable organizations, but also to the ones who are truly essential — our associates.”

Stine supplied some employees with food, housing and incentive pay totaling $2 million.

Seven of Stine’s 10 locations were damaged.

“Practically everything we carry has been difficult to get due to COVID and two hurricanes. Not one industry or sector has been immune to this.”

For months after the hurricanes, trucks and trailers lined up before dawn to load up with metal from a Sulphur metal distributor.

Duane Dougharty of Sam’s Discount Tires in DeQuincy said tire sales and repairs were somewhat curtailed by lockdown and other orders to prevent the spread of the pandemic. People didn’t venture from home if they didn’t have to. The hurricanes increased his business.

“There was so much debris,” Duane said. “People were coming in with three or four nails or screws in a tire.”

Southwest Beverage Company Vice President of Sales and Marketing George Ford said “bars and restaurants took a wash last year.” However, the company’s sales are up 2.5 percent, according to Ford.

Consumers are drinking at home, he said. They have switched their shopping to grocery stores, which Southwest Beverage helps supply, and Ford said more people are shopping their old familiar brands — a change from previous trends.  

“We would have been set to finish the year strong had we not been interrupted by the hurricanes,” Ford said.

Rosie Brightwell, general manager of Hocus Pocus, said craft beer, bourbon and popular staples have become “even more popular.”

Based on purchase data comparing what people bought in 2019 to what they bought in the first half of 2020, nationwide purchases of spirits were up 33 percent, according to Ibotta, a cash back app.

The demand for RVs, storage containers, storage sheds and manufactured housing is up, as well. Food trucks can be found in abundance, especially along U.S. 171/La. 14/Gerstner Memorial. RV parks are filled.  

“The day after the hurricane, people flocked in,” said Tom Behr, owner of Twelve Oak RV Parks. He said these RVers are mainly workers in the construction trades who are helping rebuild Southwest Louisiana.

“Construction jobs were shut down because of COVID,” Behr said, “so I guess you could say the hurricanes helped me.”  

Dan Groft, director of H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis, said local businesses are rebuilding and coming back.

“When businesses are closed, people shift their spending,” Groft said. “For example, with many restaurants closed or constrained, we saw a lot more grocery shopping and food delivery services.”

However, overall spending at the local and national level is down and unemployment is up.

Groft said bright spots in the future of the state’s economy hinge on a strong manufacturing base, the LNG plants, the continued demand for Louisiana products and attracting…

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