- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

It isn’t winter in the Washington area until the supermarkets sell out of toilet paper.

Winter arrived yesterday.

Milk, bread and toilet paper were in short supply at many local grocery stores as Washingtonians braced for what could be the first major snowfall since February. The region is under a storm watch through the weekend, with a menacing mix of snow, sleet and rain expected.

Customers raided hardware stores, too, snatching shovels, scrapers, blowers and melt.

“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic today. I’d say one out of every three or four customers has a snow shovel or a bag of ice melt in their hands,” said Ryan East, operations manager of the Lowe’s hardware store in Alexandria.

Not everyone stood in the long lines at the stores. Some went online.

“Our sales always go up before a big storm. It always happens,” said Kenn Fischburg, president and chief executive of ToiletPaperWorld.com, a Norwich, Conn., company that sells toilet paper and cleaning products in bulk to businesses and consumers. Recent figures were unavailable, he said.

About 30 percent of ToiletPaperWorld’s business comes from households, Mr. Fischburg said. The company’s offerings include 60 rolls of Quilted Northern for $59.23, or 48 double rolls of Charmin Ultra 2-Ply for $44.62.

Charmin is “the world’s most popular toilet paper since 1928,” says ToiletPaperWorld’s Web site.

Sales of the Innovation Factory IF11000 IceDozer Plus, a powerful ice scraper, were up 786 percent at 5 p.m. yesterday at the online department store Amazon.com. The IceDozer Plus ranked No. 88 on the Web site’s list of best-selling products, up from No. 780 Tuesday.

Customers who ordered the IF11000 IceDozer Plus had to pay a premium to get it before the weekend. It usually takes Amazon.com between one and two weeks to ship an IF11000 IceDozer Plus, which sells for $19.99, although one-day shipping to the District was available for $16.98.

Some Washingtonians are so consumed with their families and careers that they don’t take time to prepare for emergencies until the last minute, said Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in the District who gives advice to listeners of “The Paul Berry Show” on WTNT-AM (570).

“There’s a certain survival instinct at play. Rushing out and buying all this stuff gives us the illusion of being in control. If we buy that extra pound of sugar, we feel like we’re ready,” she said.

“I think it’s also related to the fact that no one knows what to do when it snows here,” said Dr. Van Susteren, a Wisconsin native.

The stampede of consumers into local supermarkets and hardware stores at about this time every year signals the start of winter just as easily as the running of the bulls kicks off Spain’s famous Fiesta of San Fermin. But not everyone enjoys the spectacle, or at least the attention that comes with it.

Yes, people were buying the staples yesterday at Giant Food, said Barry Scher, the company spokesman who fields countless calls from reporters during big storms.

“And if you call me before the next snowstorm, I’m going to tell you the same thing,” he said playfully.


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