Winter storm compounds supply chain issues: stores struggle to get deliveries

SEATTLE — Local stores and markets are struggling to keep shelves stocked as bad road conditions prompt cancellations for delivery drivers.

Western Washington shoppers may have noticed that milk, eggs, bread and other weekly staples are hard to come by this week.

In the wake of a winter storm that has dumped inches of snow across Puget Sound, delivery drivers are unable to make their drops, compounding the already prevalent pandemic-related supply chain issues.

At Tower 12 Café & Deli on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Virginia Street in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, shoppers stopped in looking for a staple.

“Did you get milk, darling?” A woman asked as she poked her head in the door.

“No, my milkman hasn’t come out yet,” replied shift supervisor, Sunny Lee.

The market-deli combo is a go-to for a quick sandwich or the last stop for milk on the way home. But this week, supply is running low and shelves are running bare.

“We’re having a hard time getting milk, eggs, bread; I couldn’t get a bread delivery this week,” Lee said.

“What else? Our chip delivery hasn’t been able to come in, and when we buy stuff for our store to sell to our customers we’re getting low stock, so pretty much a little bit of everything,” Lee continued.

This week, Tower 12 Café & Deli had to cancel multiple deliveries because of poor road conditions, after an early-season storm dumped inches of snow.

“Everywhere is sold out, and I have to tell my customers, ‘There’s this market, there’s this market,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve already been there and they’re out,’” Lee said.

Lee said she has doubled up on orders and is actively trying to reschedule and request deliveries, but there’s no guarantee when they will come.

“The pandemic has already hit us once with the shortage of a lot of stuff, and I felt like we were getting on a good track of getting everything, and then this whole snowstorm hit and so it’s like back to square one,” said Lee.

“I’m hoping and praying [the deliveries] can make it out this week,” she said.

At Leschi Market in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, it’s more of the same.

“Breads, baked goods… perishables, so milk, yogurt, cheese, anything that can turn really fast,” said Leschi Market co-owner, Paul Wilcox, as he listed the items that are currently in short supply.

“That’s the one that we’ve been impacted by the most is the bread — because that’s local and it’s just down the street, but it’s just getting it here,” Wilcox continued. “And it’s not so much the actual product itself, it’s the actual delivery process, the logistical process that dramatically impacts grocery the most.”

Leschi Market is still waiting on deliveries that were expected yesterday, the day before, and the day after Christmas.

“A lot of our small independent wholesalers that we deal with are really struggling just because there’s a manpower issue, and then obviously the weather and how it impacts the roads, and then we have to factor in the health piece into it too,” Wilcox explained.

Wilcox said as a small market, they have the upper hand over large chain stores because they can take small deliveries at a moment’s notice, ultimately allowing them to keep more products on the shelves.

“Obviously, we can’t offer everything like we’d like to, but we do have the ability to reach out to local vendorships and they can provide us with what they have, and we’ll take it,” Wilcox said. “It’s difficult, but you find a way to get through it and there’s no manual for it, there’s no protocol, you just find a way to do good business, make phone calls, and follow through.”

Wilcox believes they have what customers are looking for about 80 percent of the time and is proud to say they have as much in stock as they do when compared to other markets without milk, eggs, or other staples.

“They still have crème fraîche!” said longtime shopper, Blair Carleton as she checked out.

“It’s a miracle! I feel like there’s going to be a run on Leschi Market!” Carleton laughed.

Still, many stores and shoppers are frustrated. And now, with more snow in the forecast, there are worries that these delivery delays will last even longer.

“The moment that this passes, we get another snowstorm and we go through the same thing again and it’s like ugh, what is next, it never goes away, it’s a big food puzzle as we call it,” Wilcox said.