Thursday, December 7, 2023

PPE supplies wax and wane, but one local company is helping counteract rising costs

PPE costs have added to local business pressures during the pandemic, with the price of some products skyrocketing. (Port City Daily/File photo)
PPE costs have added to local business pressures during the pandemic, with the price of some products skyrocketing. (Port City Daily/File photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — It’s been a year of shortages: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, disinfectant wipes, gloves. 

Foggers — used to sanitize large spaces — were on back order over the summer. Restaurateurs experienced a surge in takeout items. 

Related: Surcharges and increased prices help some businesses deal with the aftereffects of Covid-19

So where does it leave us on PPE today, as Covid-19 numbers continue to rise nationwide — daily averages clock in around 66 people per 100,000 — and hospitals continue to fill? 

Prices up

Web Bostic, who works for local janitorial supply company, Croaker, in Castle Hayne, continues to witness the supply-and-demand chain wax and wane, from March and April’s panic-buying spree to leveling out in the fall. Though hand sanitizer and toilet paper seem to be back in the green, gloves and disinfectant wipes are a different story. Name brands like Lysol and Clorox continue to be sought after and in short supply, as are latex, nitrile and vinyl gloves — which are widely used in healthcare and food industries.

“Disposable glove prices have gone up 300% and are on allocation from the manufacturer,” Bostic relayed. “To help with the shortage, a newer type of hybrid vinyl glove has been produced by the manufacturers.”

Though these gloves remain cheaper and well-made, Bostic said it’s hard to convince people to change they’re buying habits. They’re used to the name brands and familiarity of what they know. Those habits contribute to rising prices, despite the fact other lesser-known brands are available at lower costs.

“Thinking outside the box is not easily conveyed to people who are panicking in a pandemic,” Bostic said.

According to New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s spokesperson Julian March, currently, the hospital is stable with its PPE supply. March confirmed the hospital still is going through more isolation gowns, masks and gloves. 

“Like most health systems, we need more PPE today than we did pre-pandemic,” he said. ”Costs have increased as expected with increased demand.”

Surgical masks, many of which had to be flown in from China, according to Bostic, were up to 0.50 cents each in May. They went down to 0.10 cents and have settled in around 0.16 each.

While mask sales are up, sales of sanitizer are low again. “The mask mandate has instilled a false sense of security,” Bostic attributed to the falloff.

Stepping in to help

The cost of doing business in 2020 may come with a higher price tag, but Port City Contracting Services (PCCS) — a veteran-owned small business — helped counter some of those expenses for small businesses in need] PCCS partnered with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to donate 50,000 masks to local businesses, childcare facilities or the general public. 

“We understand the struggles of operating a business, particularly in these challenging times,” Port City Contracting Services CEO Trey Sharpe said in a press release.

According to chamber spokesperson Megan Mullins, quite a few local nonprofits have benefitted from the donation. Habitat for Humanity, YWCA and Smart Start all took masks to distribute. 

The chamber made sure minorities had access to the supply too. Mattress and Furniture Liquidators owner Gustavea Rodea, who also chairs the Latin American Business Council, was a distribution point to reach the Latin and Hispanic community in Wilmington. Mullins delivered 4,000 masks to Rodea last week and 9,000 to Hollis Briggs, who serves the City of Wilmington’s Commission on African American History. Last weekend, Briggs handed out 10-packs on Greenfield Street where the old grocery store, Everybody’s, once stood.

With increased purchases of cleaning agents, masks, gloves and alcohol wipes over the last 10 months, CustomEyes business owner Greg Owen has managed to not pass the buck to his customers. Some businesses did Covid surcharges to make up for the rising costs.

“We have been able to keep service costs relatively similar,” Owen explained.

He even was able to donate masks to a nurse in need after stocking up on some PPE while he could back in the spring.

“Without hoarding, I purchased enough early from deeply researched sources to last us through the summer,” Owen explained.  

Owen opened his eyewear shop in late fall 2018 in the South Front District and was able to keep one person employed through the pandemic, thanks to the PPP loan. Though CustomEyes is an essential business and stayed open amidst the stay-at-home orders, Owen said he is seeing 75% loss in revenue for the year.

“It is hard to quantify at this time,” he said. “I actually think a late 2021 return to normal we all hope for may show us real-time, predicted growth, and success.” 

Businesses who would like to take advantage of free masks offered from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Port City Contracting Services can call the chamber at 910-762-2611 after January 4 to schedule a time for pick up.

Send tips and comments to Shea Carver at

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