COVID-19: Most essential items are back on the shelves, but these are still hard to find

Toilet paper is back on the shelves (phew). So are hand sanitizers. Ditto flour and cans of soup. But as the pandemic continues, a new bunch of products has become more difficult, if not impossible, to find. 

Good luck scoring these three items that, thanks to our global health crisis, have become as rare as a group hug. 

Tequila 

Tequila, which is featured liquor in margaritas, is in short supply nowadays. Shown here the blood orange margarita at Lefkes in Englewood Cliffs

Tequila wasn’t exactly a wallflower before COVID-19 hit. The darling of frat parties, according to IWSR, a company that analyzes brands, tequila has grown 9 percent every year for the past three years, making it the second-fastest growing spirit. Gin is No. 1, with an annual growth of 12 percent.

Tequila is so popular that a slew of celebrities have started putting their names on tequila bottles, including George Clooney, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Guy Fieri and most recently, Michael Jordan.

But try getting your hands on a bottle of Clooney’s Casamigos tequila or a bottle of Patrón or Jose Cuervo. 

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“We didn’t have Jose Cuervo all summer,” said Ted Banks, owner of Banks Wine & Spirits in Millville, Delaware. He still can’t get Cabo Wabo tequila, he reported.

The reason? The pandemic, he explained, shut down facilities in Mexico, where tequila is made from agave. 

What’s helping drive the supply shortage, too, is margaritas’ continued popularity. It is America’s favorite cocktail, according to Nielsen. And since we shut-in Americans are drinking more — sales of alcohol purchases, according to a recent Nielsen report, have increased nearly 27 percent since the start of the health crisis — presumably we are pouring tequila more often into our favorite cocktail.

 “The demand for tequila is so high, liquor stores can’t keep it in stock,” said Rose Sangiovanni, a saleswoman for Allied Beverage Company, New Jersey’s largest wine and spirits distributor based in Elizabeth. 

Sangiovanni also said that instead of buying an expensive bottle of wine nowadays, more and more consumers are purchasing spirits. “You get a bigger bang for your dollar,” she said. That is, there’s more alcohol in Bourbon (also a hot commodity now) and tequila than a bottle of Chardonnay.

Kim Costagliola, owner of Esty Street in Park Ridge, however, reports that the tequila shortage seems to have eased a bit recently, particularly for the high-end tequila he serves at his fine-dine restaurant. 

“Last week I received shipments of Don Julio 1942, Cincoro, all the Clas Azuls and Gran Patrón,” he said. 

Esty Street will be more than happy to make you a ginger margarita with Don Julio Reposado. Cost: $18. 

Heat Lamps

Now that the weather has cooled and the meager socializing we do is done primarily outdoors, the demand for heat lamps has grown hot. And it’s not just restaurants that are scrambling to purchase outdoor heaters so that they can keep diners warm on their makeshift alfresco dining rooms, but homeowners who want to hang outdoors with friends and family. 

“It used to be a niche item,” said Doug Fleischer, owner of Modern Propane in Lodi, a company that sells all propane products. But today he said there’s such a demand for the item that sales have increased 1000%. 

“We saw this coming,” Fleischer said “We have a warehouse of them cause we bought them all, I think. They are really hard to get.”

“Every restaurant wants them,” he continued. “Restaurants are smart to get them now cause I don’t know how much longer I’ll have them.”

Still, he said, homeowners make up 50 percent of the sales. Many want to be able to stay outdoors for as long as possible, masked and socially distanced, of course.

Bicycles 

A bike is now nearly impossible to get

If you don’t have a bicycle and want one now, sorry. 

“We sold everything we had,” said Chet Hunt, owner of Whippany Cycles in Whippany. “Our stock is depleted.” He added, “Normally we get truck shipments of 20 or 30 bikes at a time. We haven’t had one of those since March. We got one bike in the other day.”

The reason? The novel coronavirus hit manufacturers hard, and most every one of them is overseas, many in China. “China shut down first,” Hunt said. “And then other countries that produce bike parts shut down. It’s a snowball effect.” 

The demand has skyrocketed for two reasons: with gyms closed or partially closed for six months due to the pandemic (gyms were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity beginning Sept. 1), bicycles offered the calorie-burning exercise that gyms provided, as well as a safer means of transportation than buses or trains. 

For proof of the high demand for bikes, Hunt noted that April is the biggest money-making month for the bike industry. Normally it does $550 million in sales in April. This year, it raked in more than a billion dollars.  

“The time I remember anything like this was when we had a gas crisis in the ’70s,” Hunt said. “But that didn’t last quite as long.”

Have a bike already? Great. Need repairs? Sorry again.

Like bikes, bike parts are more or less MIA.

“None of the suppliers have anything,” Hunt said. 

“I had someone call today,” he added. “His bike has been here for about a month. Two parts on it are just impossible to find. He’s like, ‘I want to ride it while the weather is still good.’ I understand, but there’s not a whole lot we can do.” 

Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.

Email: davidowitz@northjersey.com Twitter: @estherdavido