Business

Looking for sidewalk salt? Good luck

Ice melt goes quickly in unrelenting winter

Devon Willis (from left), bagger, and Cody Coberly, co-owner, unload a pallet of empty containers for their 13-pound ice melt shakers at Zippy’s Salt Barn in Mechanicsville on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Devon Willis (from left), bagger, and Cody Coberly, co-owner, unload a pallet of empty containers for their 13-pound ice melt shakers at Zippy’s Salt Barn in Mechanicsville on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As winter weather refuses to relent, Eastern Iowa businesses are struggling to stock enough sidewalk salt and ice-melt to keep up with customers.

“Nothing really ever rivals the demand for milk and bread, but yesterday salt was up there,” said Greg Wery, store director for the Wilson Avenue Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids.

Wery said snow events traditionally are more sporadic, allowing time for businesses to restock the shelves. However, the last several weeks have offered little respite from snow, ice and sleet.

“In the past we’ve been able to stock up and always have an ample supply ... we haven’t had a winter like this for a few years,” he said Tuesday. “It has strained the pipeline, the system, and our suppliers are restocking as fast as they can. This morning, I don’t think anybody in Cedar Rapids had any.”

Wery said his store received two pallets — about 200 bags — of salt on Monday. It was gone in less than two hours.

“It was in such high demand yesterday that I could have sold a semi trailer of it,” Wery said.

Salt lowers the freezing point of water and helps melt ice but is less effective as temperatures near zero. Salt blends containing calcium chloride are more effective in below-zero weather, Consumer Reports found.

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At O’Donnell Ace Hardware on Center Point Road, store manager Ray Adams secured 10 pallets of mixed salt Monday morning. By 1 p.m., it was all gone.

“We’ve hit and called every distributor that we know of and then some,” Adams said.

Adams said the challenge is that it’s not just Eastern Iowa, or even the state, that has been hit by prolonged winter. The last several weeks also have been rough on Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois, to name a few.

“Everybody and anybody in the Midwest is looking for salt,” he said.

And it doesn’t appear winter is leaving anytime soon. The National Weather Service’s outlook for the rest of February shows lower-than-average temperatures.

It could be mid-March before Eastern Iowa witnesses above-freezing temperatures with any consistency.

Adams recommended customers try to be patient and call before they leave home for the store to make sure the store even has salt.

As retailers, school districts, businesses and residents search for salt, one local company is working around the clock to ship as much as possible.

Zippy’s Salt Barn in Mechanicsville is home of the aptly-named “Zippy’s No Slippy ice melt” and provides chemically-treated salt with labels like “FIRE Blend” and “RAZOR Melt.”

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Owner Cody Coberly said despite having experience in the snow-clearing business, starting the company last year came with some risk.

Thanks to the frigid winter, that gamble has been paying off.

“We went out on a limb on a handful of things,” he said. “The payoff so far has been there. We’ve been doing really well ... it has been a good year.”

Coberly said his company trucks salt in from barges on the Mississippi River, treats and packages it and then sells and distributes the product to whoever needs it.

As temperatures dropped below freezing two weeks ago, Coberly said, he knew demand for salt would follow.

“We anticipated it was coming when that cold snap hit. We knew people would be sitting tight and burning through their stockpile,” he said. “We got slammed and everybody else in town — the hardware stores, everybody — ran out when we still had product. ... Now it’s just a game of catch up.”

Coberly said Zippy’s has shipped hundreds of pallets containing thousands of tons of product this winter. The Mechanicsville company also has taken on new customers.

Hy-Vee was one of those, Wery said, adding that another shipment of salt was anticipated to arrive Tuesday.

Wery said he hopes he has ordered enough salt — and then some — to handle the remaining winter weeks.

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“I don’t think being in stock the rest of the season will be a problem,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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