‘The Great Salt Shortage of 2019’
Area hardware stores selling out of ice-melting salt

By Katherine Michalets

Feb. 12, 2019

 Pallets of salt are delivered to Tomchek Ace Hardware in Waukesha on Monday.
The store had sold out on Saturday.
Katherine Michalets/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — A group of a dozen people waited around the lobby of Tomchek Ace Hardware in Waukesha at noon Monday as pallets of snow-melting ice were stacked on bare shelves with a forklift. Employees joked that it felt like Black Friday.

Emilie Dishno of Tomchek Ace Hardware said they were kiddingly calling this winter the “Great Salt Shortage of 2019.”

There’s no denying it’s been a wacky winter weather- wise — from mild conditions to bitterly cold and then lots of snow and ice. While people were able to bundle up — and sometimes stay home from work during the frigid days — the thick layers of ice on sidewalks and driveways this past week have forced homeowners to battle Mother Nature with salt and shovels.

Don Dishno, manager for Tomchek Ace Hardware, said the store sold 28 pallets of salt on Saturday during the store’s normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A new shipment came in Monday to restock the empty shelves.

Customers were eagerly waiting for the product. In fact, Tomchek employees wrote down names and contact information for more than three dozen people who needed salt.

Mike Curtis of Waukesha got lucky Monday. He arrived at Tomchek to buy salt shortly before the shipment arrived by semi, not knowing that the store had been sold out.

He only had to wait a short while to purchase 10 bags for his driveway, which he said went unsalted while he was out of town.

In West Bend, Todd Tennies, an owner of Tennies Ace Hardware, said he has had customers coming from neighboring Dodge and Ozaukee counties to purchase salt. He said the business, which has locations in West Bend, Kewaskum and Jackson, sold 70 pallets of salt in five days. Each pallet contained 49 50-pound salt bags.

“It’s selling as fast as I can put it on the shelves,” Tennies said, who owns the family business with brothers David and Terry.

While Tennies said many residents and businesses were caught off guard with the need for salt, he wasn’t. And when he ran out of salt, he was able to get more quickly as a small business versus a big box store because of his contacts.

But when he was out of salt for melting sidewalk and driveway ice, he had to switch to selling water softener salt.

“This is unbelievable,” he said.

Removing ice

Dishno said it’s important for people to rid their sidewalks and driveways of ice completely.

To do so, he suggests using salt to loosen up the ice and then use a shovel to take it off the pavement. If not, it could refreeze. He also said there is a fine line between using too much and too little salt. Too little and it won’t remove the ice and too much and it could damage the pavement.

Ace Hardware offers different kinds of ice-removing products, Dishno said, including pet-safe salt and liquid chemicals, as well as calcium chloride which is really efficient at removing ice but is not good for pets.

Dishno recommends that people salt early to prevent ice from building up.

Tennies thinks the icy areas are only going to get more slippery as snow falls.

He also advises people to go to their local hardware stores to find shovels, snowblowers, ice-melting products and for help.