There's where the batteries used to be

Stores can't keep batteries in stock as people prepare for Irene

August 26, 2011|By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

John Minutella rushed through the doors of Ace Hardware in Waverly on Friday evening, his shirt dampened with sweat and face flushed red.

"Please tell me you have batteries and flashlights," he pleaded to anyone who would listen. "Please tell me yes."

The response: blank stares. Then a salesman, Anthony Williams, spoke up, looking toward an empty shelf. "I can tell you where they used to be."

As people crowded stores across the Baltimore region looking for storm necessities in preparation for Hurricane Irene, the demand for batteries reached a fever pitch and seemed to outpace the clamoring for bread and bottled water. Store managers and shoppers said the larger C and D batteries were the first to sell out as people feared the possibility of days without power and nights, with the only light coming from flashlights that had been buried in drawers and closets.

Minutella persisted with no avail: "Don't you have any in the back?"

Battery company Duracell announced Friday that it planned to ship 12 truckloads of batteries to East Coast distribution centers for Home Depot, Lowe's and CVS so those chains could restock their shelves. A spokeswoman for the battery maker said she didn't know how many would make it into Maryland stores.

Meanwhile, shares of Energizer Holdings Inc., which commands nearly 40 percent of the U.S. battery market, rose nearly 2 percent Friday, sparked by an expected spike in sales in advance of Hurricane Irene, according to analysts. Energizer also makes flashlights.

By Friday morning, the buying frenzy had already begun. Many store shelves were bare where batteries were once displayed.

"D-batteries are like gold now," said Mike Stevens, the manager of Stevens Hardware in Annapolis, where the store was nearly wiped clean of large batteries, flashlights, tarps, duct tape, lamp oil and wicks by lunchtime.

Mickey Fried, the owner of Belle Hardware in Bolton Hill, wished he had ordered more. His supply of batteries sold out by 10 a.m., an hour after the store opened.

"It has been kind of frantic in here," he said.

The Waverly Ace Hardware had a few AAA-sized batteries left on the shelves by rush hour Friday. Flashlights and batteries were the most popular storm items, said owner John Elliott.

Shopper Talesa Waller got the last pack of C batteries at about 6 p.m. She had a huge grin on her face as she grabbed the batteries. She had searched Giant Food and some other stores and was close to giving up.

"It's my lucky day," she said.

Minutella said he had been to 20 stores by the time he reached Ace Hardware about 6:30 p.m. Giant Food, Radio Shack, Rite Aid. No batteries — or flashlights to put them in — anywhere.

The salesman Williams had one last possibility for Minutella. A head lamp like the ones workers wear in coal mines.

Minutella examined it a while, threw his hands up in the air and bought it, along with three packs of AAA batteries.

"Is this what I've been reduced to?" he asked in defeat. "A headlight and AAA batteries."

Baltimore Sun reporters Andrea Siegel and Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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