As the reality started sinking in across the country that Americans would be urged to stay home for an indefinite period of time during the covid-19 crisis, people have been buying large volumes of beans and rice and soap.
Puzzle Warehouse, a family-owned shop in St. Louis with a huge selection of puzzles, suddenly found itself overwhelmed with business last week.
“This is beyond even Christmas volume,” said Brian Way, who has owned the store with his wife, Susan, for about 10 years. “That’s just insane.”
On a normal day, the store sells 1,000 puzzles. In the past week or so, it’s selling as many as 10,000 a day. Some sales were through its brick-and-mortar store, which is now closed indefinitely because of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but the bulk of the orders are online and shipped from the company’s warehouse.
“We’ve never seen something like this,” said Way, 51.
The store has a backlog of orders taken in recent days that Way is trying to get to people.
“Our biggest challenge now is shipping,” said Way, whose four children, ages 14 to 19, are helping the business while their schools are closed.
Way said he was initially shocked at the demand, but now it makes sense.
“There’s no sports on TV,” he said. “Do you really want the TV and radio on that’s nonstop corona all the time? People are burned out and need something different.”
They’re choosing something, he said, that might allow cooped up families to spend hours together on a shared project.
Big retailers such as Amazon are selling out of puzzles, as are local toy stores, many of which have closed because of the outbreak. Puzzle Warehouse, which calls itself “the largest jigsaw puzzle store in the USA” has a about 10,000 different puzzle choices in its inventory.
The store has sold out of many in the recent rush, but it expects to restock by the weekend as long as it gets its shipments.
A note to customers on Puzzle Warehouse’s website says: “We have received unprecedented interest in our products, with order and customer service levels approaching 10 times normal volume for this time of year. While we are doing our best to serve you, the circumstances seem to be changing day to day and even hour to hour, both on a local and national level.”
The bulk of the store’s usual business is regular puzzlers and families, but Way said that in the past year or two he’s seen an uptick in young adults “who are looking to get unplugged.”
The store’s average 1,000-piece puzzle generally sells for about $17. The biggest is a 52,000-piece set that sells for $500; and the smallest is a tiny 234-piece puzzle that comes with tweezers and sells for $6.
Way said is he is happy that he recently bought a bigger warehouse and made an early and large Christmas order from manufacturers before the coronavirus crisis began, meaning the store had more puzzles than usual in stock.
Before the recent crush of orders, the warehouse had 20 employees. In the past week, Way has hired another two dozen more, most of whom were laid off from other retail or restaurant work, Way said. He said the warehouse has implemented strict sanitization and social-distancing standards.
As states start to force businesses to close, he’s not sure how long the warehouse will stay open, especially now that St. Louis city and county have ordered people to stay at home. But no matter what happens, he’s grateful that Americans are turning to puzzles in a time of isolation and crisis.
“The long and short of it is, we’ll do what we can, while we can,” he said.