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Hey, Tampa Bay, it could be a festive mini-fridge Thanksgiving

Large appliances, and refrigerators in particular, are the latest things consumers can’t find in this pandemic. And just in time for the holidays.
All I want for Christmas is a refrigerator.  (Times)
All I want for Christmas is a refrigerator. (Times)
Published Oct. 15, 2020

Question: Anyone know if you can cram a full-sized Thanksgiving turkey into a mini-fridge?

Because here’s the latest pandemic-related shortage just in time for the holidays: a serious dearth of full-sized refrigerators and other major appliances. And this one I know firsthand.

Like a lot of consumers hunkered down at home — cooking, planting, painting and generally trying to improve the place where we spend our time these days — we’ve been fixing up our old kitchen.

After all the remodeling dust and grit, we assumed that swapping out a couple of aged appliances, including a refrigerator that wheezed and growled like an old bear and was recently hauled away, would be the easy part.

Ha. A pandemic laughs at that assumption.

Remember going to a store and picking out the fridge you wanted — a side-by-side or maybe a fancy French-door model with the freezer below — and having it delivered in a few days? Turns out, our just-ordered fridge could take up to six weeks, leaving us with a mini-fridge that’s been our go-to through the kitchen work.

Local dealers say that eight to 12 weeks of waiting isn’t uncommon, and that some orders made during their busy July 4th sales period are still not in. The problem of sellers facing lengthy delays in getting appliances from suppliers is nationwide.

“In all the years I’ve been in this business, I have never experienced a severe shortage like this,” said Claude Ward, general manager of the 66-year-old Famous Tate Appliance & Bedding Center, which has 11 Tampa Bay locations. “I have to put it in the crisis-level category.”

Appliance dealers say they often can’t get reliable arrival dates to give customers sure answers.

“Were' starting to see 2021 ETAs on some appliances,” said Laura Greco, who with her father owns APSCO Appliance Center in Largo.

How we got here sounds a lot like the path to other coronavirus-related shortages: a damaged supply chain up against an increased demand.

Factories shut down early on. Back when we panicked at emptied grocery store shelves, there was a serious run on freezers, and also refrigerators with freezers. Those in the industry say transportation and labor also are factors. And if one component of an appliance isn’t available, building it can’t be finished.

And as the crisis wears on with us nesting at home, the demand keeps coming.

“We’ve sold off almost everything on the floor,” said Greco. “It’s pretty bare in here.”

“We’re even out of loaner fridges,” she said.

Used appliance dealers feel it, too. Mark Perkins, owner of Direct Value Reconditioned Appliances in Hudson, says his store is having trouble getting decent inventory because people aren’t getting rid of their old appliances.

“All you can do is ride it out and see what happens,” he said.

But sellers say consumers are being flexible. I don’t care what color anymore, they will say, and can I buy that floor model?

“People do seem to get it,” Greco said.

Advice from sellers: If you think an appliance in your home is on its last legs, order early so at least you’re in line. Be ready to be flexible when it comes to specific details you may have had your heart set on.

And get ready. Here come the holidays.

“Cooking season is coming upon us, and we don’t have a lot of ranges that are readily available,” Greco said. They do have dishwashers (in my humble opinion, the least fun of all the appliances).

“They’re like, ‘Can we get this for Thanksgiving?’” said Greco. “And we’re like, ‘Fingers crossed.’”

One thing about this year: We’re learning to adapt. And hey, a mini-fridge for the holidays has to be better than no fridge at all.