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Ice supply melting away as demand heats up

The Western News | July 23, 2021 7:00 AM

As extreme temperatures continue to scorch south Lincoln County, a near-unprecedented demand for ice is threatening to leave some local businesses high and dry.

MaryAnn Gromley, owner of Treasure Mountain Ice, said the shortage is the worst she has seen in years. With summer weather hitting hard and early, some customers are looking to buy 10 to 15 bags at a time for as much as $2.50 a bag. This year’s historic fire season has also led Gromley to send thousands of pounds of ice to keep lunches and drinks cool for firefighters working local blazes.

“It’s like the new toilet paper,” she said referring to the shortage that racked the nation last year at the start of the pandemic.

Since the Fourth of July, Gromley has been scrambling to fill the ice chests of local supermarkets and gas stations. For her latest shipment, Gromley had to ask another ice distributor in Oregon to divert a semi truck laden with the precious cargo her way from Missouri.

While the shortage has hit distributors in the West particularly hard, Gromley said ice mongers as far as New York state have felt the pinch.

“It’s bad and it’s expensive,” she said.

Scott Erickson, manager of the Libby Rosauers, said the demand led store officials to limit the amount of ice each customer could purchase. Due to fluctuations in supply, Erickson said the limit could change day-to-day.

Other summer goods, including Powerade and Capri Suns, have also been flying off Rosauers’ shelves. Erickson correlated the hike in sales with an increase in shoppers in the store this year.

“We’re seeing more traffic since last summer, but even from 2019,” he said.

At the Troy Town Pump, Joe Crowe, store manager, had to limit customers to two bags of ice. Under most circumstances, Crowe and his staff can make enough ice in-house to keep up with demand. But with the current rush, Crowe has had to rely on Treasure Mountain Ice to bolster his reserves.

Gromley was unsure how long the shortage would last but speculated that demand for ice would remain high as long sweltering temperatures persisted.

“Everything depends on the weather and how many people are getting out,” she said.