Winter is coming. If you want to stay entertained, start shopping.

Photo: Dreamstime

In these pandemic times, it’s not surprising that it can still be hard to come by some of the items we need, such as disinfecting cleaning products and hand sanitizer, but what about the items we want? Americans who sought to cool off in an above-ground pool were out of luck this summer. So, too, for folks who decided to get back in the saddle – the bicycle saddle, that is. Two-wheelers became such a hot commodity that bicycle shops couldn’t keep up with demand.

With winter approaching, I wondered what items might be in short supply or – sigh – back-ordered into 2021. Patio heaters have already gotten some press for being hard to find. After canvassing friends, acquaintances and industry experts, here’s my totally unscientific, noncomprehensive, best guess of other items you may want to put on your shopping list before your neighbor beats you to it.

– Spices

Culinary essentials such as cumin, coriander, cayenne and turmeric flew off grocery shelves as pandemic chefs fired up their kitchens. That led consumers to turn to online retailers such as Pinch Spice Market, which specializes in organic spices. Owner Meaghan Thomas says sales in August 2020 were up 342 percent over the same month last year.

“When covid-19 first hit, there was a run on spices. We heard of shortages at grocery stores, saw for ourselves at local shops, and we witnessed online competitors running fast out of stock,” Thomas recalls. “Customers were telling us they couldn’t find cardamom, garlic, paprika, allspice, star anise and more.”

Fall and winter are big for spice sales, and with the supply chain from India, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Vietnam remaining tight, Thomas advises shoppers to stock up now on pumpkin pie spice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander and garlic. She also suggests buying whole spices such as peppercorns, star anise and cardamom and grinding them up yourself with an inexpensive coffee grinder.

– Yarn

Serious knitters tend to be hoarders: They simply cannot resist yarn, says Marissa Likar, owner of the knitting blog Stitch Clinic. “Even though a lot of us have stashes large enough to last more than a lifetime, the idea of a long stretch of time without leaving the house makes one desperate for even more,” she confesses.

That’s one reason that right before nonessential stores closed, the yarn aisles were almost bare. Though craft stores have reopened, both knitting veterans and those new to the craft may find slim pickings. Another factor: Australia, China, the United States and New Zealand – all affected by the pandemic – are the top four producers of wool for the craft yarn and garment industries.

Because people tend to knit more, anyway, in the time leading up to winter and the winter holidays, if you want to churn out those handmade gifts, start stockpiling now.

– Fitness equipment

Even during the strictest of pandemic shutdowns, most of us were told to get outside and take a walk. But those living in cold-weather states soon face inclement conditions, less daylight and little desire to head back to the gym. For those who can afford it, one alternative is investing in a treadmill or other home fitness equipment.

Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing for ICON Health & Fitness, makers of NordicTrack, ProForm and Freemotion, says sales of her company’s fitness equipment are up 500 percent to 600 percent since mid-March. That includes treadmills, incline trainers, stationary cycles, rowers and ellipticals. Looking for dumbbells? You may be looking well into 2021. Some 95 percent of the world’s dumbbells are made in China, Logan says, and there wasn’t much demand pre-pandemic, so retailers had little stock to begin with.

Initially, supply-chain and distribution issues left big-box stores and sporting goods retailers empty-handed. “Now, as factories ramp up and the pipeline is restored, it’s truly the continuously rising consumer demand that is causing challenges for supply to keep up,” Logan says. “If you want a treadmill and other home fitness products this winter, it’s best to buy this fall, as soon as you see it.”

– Jigsaw puzzles

This sleepy corner of the toy and hobby business is hot. Jigsaw puzzles are cost-effective family entertainment, and solving them takes so much focus you can’t do much else (such as watching the nightly news) except de-stress.

Ceaco, one of the country’s largest puzzle producers, reports selling more puzzles in one March day than in the entire month of December 2019. “That unrelenting fervor has puzzle makers hard-pressed to keep up with demand,” says Jason Schneider, the company’s vice president of product development. “Everyone in the puzzle industry is marveling at the steam of this pastime,” he says.

If your idea of a cozy evening with family and friends is polishing off a 1,000-piece puzzle, consider picking up a few now.

Nintendo Switch

A pre-pandemic Christmas gift favorite, the Nintendo Switch has become the affordable go-to for people looking for an easy way to get into video gaming, according to Timothy Beck Werth, managing editor at spy.com, a men’s shopping and lifestyle website. The problem? With skyrocketing popularity come gougers who scoop up the devices as soon as they make it to retailers, then resell them for $100 to $150 over list price.

“When we first went into lockdown, people were looking for things to do. Switch doesn’t need controllers or a joystick: Just take it out of the box and start playing,” Werth says. That across-the-board appeal created huge demand. Some 5.6 million Nintendo Switch consoles were sold this April to June, a 166 percent increase year over year.

If you find a Switch for $299.99 (MSRP) from a reputable retailer, jump on it. If your local stores are out of stock, ask them when they expect a new shipment, and be prepared to shop that day, or if possible, put one on hold.

– RVs and campers

Granted a camper or recreational vehicle is a big-ticket item, but it may be your ticket to traveling again. “An RV allows you to control your environment, how, when or if you want to interact with people,” says Monika Geraci, spokeswoman for the RV Industry Association.

“Into fall, we’re also seeing many professionals using an RV for teleworking and remote learning. You can park it in your driveway, or work and learn from the road.” All of these factors play into the reason RVs and campers are in demand.

RVIA tracks shipments from manufacturing plants to dealers (industry sales are not tracked). For July 2020, total RV shipments – both towables and motor homes – were up 53.5 percent over 2019. A friend in Wichita tells me she has had more than one stranger knock on her door and ask whether she would like to sell the camper parked in front of her home. Other RV owners relay similar experiences. Dealers report that inventory is thin, and many RVs being delivered to sales lots are presold. You may want to add your name to the list.

– Snowshoes

If walking has become your preferred mode of transportation or exercise of choice, you may need to consider your shoes for winter, as in snowshoes. Sure, some will chuckle, but you’ll have the last laugh when the snow piles up and you can still take your daily constitutional or trek to work.

Although many retailers initially forecast decreases in winter sports sales this spring, they now are looking to increase their buy significantly over their original fall plans, especially in snowshoes, says Fletcher Andrews, a sales manager with Cascade Designs, maker of MSR snowshoes.

“People are going to be less interested in going to ski resorts and more interested in being outdoors with some distance from others,” Andrews says. “Snowshoeing has a lower barrier to entry, and retailers are expecting to see a surge in demand for snowshoe-related products. Our sales team is expecting a 20 to 25 percent increase in snowshoe demand above original forecasted business. Honestly, it could be even higher.”

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