Out of Stock

What's selling out in the pandemic: flour, yeast, thermometers — and puzzles

06 Apr 2020 | 04:19

The coronavirus pandemic has presented New York with stark and obvious challenges, as the death toll keeps rising and medical personnel and resources are overwhelmed by demand for care. It’s also presented challenges to those who are trying to do their part by staying home, which has been to adapt to life confined to a New York apartment.

In this attempt to adapt, many have tried to bring the resources of the outside world to their homes. Others look to simpler forms of entertainment. Some try their hand at the culinary arts. And still, there are people panic-buying essential supplies for their apocalypse bunkers. All of this has resorted in a number of out-of-stock items as well as weeks-long delays in shipping, and some are realizing they might just have to do without.

The Essentials

These products were going out-of-stock before going out-of-stock went mainstream. It’s been one month (only one month, if you can believe it) since the panic-buying began in stores across the city. Toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, rubbing alcohol have vanished from shelves about as soon as they appear, if these items do at all. The shortage of these essential goods could very well create an entire generation of hoarders, packing closets with hand sanitizer and toilet paper “just in case.”

Everyone’s a Baker

There are only three kinds of people during this quarantine: those who’ve baked bread, those thinking about baking bread, and those wondering why every single person they know is baking bread. If you scroll through your social network of choice — your Facebook, your Instagram, your Twitter, and maybe even your TikTok — you’ll find your friends, both real and virtual, talking about their sourdough starter as though they have birthed new life into this world. They’re very proud of their sourdough, and they have their eyes set on a nice focaccia recipe they plan to try this weekend. The cult of carbohydrates has caused a shortage of flour and yeast in the city. If you plan on jumping on the bread bandwagon (and what a tasty wagon that would be), you may have to search a little harder for those ingredients.

Paucity of Puzzles

It’s easy to exhaust your typical leisure activities when you’ve been stuck inside for nearly a month. You’ve read the books on your nightstand. You’ve binged all of "Tiger King." And you baked that bread! If you thought a puzzle sounded like a perfect activity to accomplish next, congratulations! So did a billion other people. If you’re looking for a Ravensburger Puzzle (which is the only puzzle brand we recognize in my house), you would be out of luck. The site is out-of-stock of basically all of its 1,000-piece and 500-piece puzzles. The selection on Amazon is not much better. Neither is Walmart or Target. The people have gone puzzle crazy. Now, you might be able to find a 100-piece or 250-piece puzzle here and there, if you’re into that kind of thing. But if you’re looking for a real challenge, you might just have to wait.


As is now well known, a fever is a common symptom of COVID-19. Buying a thermometer has become a practical matter — and for some, an essential matter — to ensure you’re free of fever. Taking one’s temperature has been a calming task for those with anxiety, which can manifest physically, and sometimes, present as symptoms of the virus, like chest tightness. As a result, thermometers have quickly become very difficult to find.

Grocery Delivery

As New Yorkers try to limit their trips outside, grocery delivery services have become a go-to option for most. But that means services are taking longer and longer to bring customers their orders. Some services don’t have any time slots at all. Time slots for Whole Foods and Fresh Direct have become elusive. Even Instacart has about a five-day wait. It’s become a real tossup between waiting days for food and making yourself vulnerable in public spaces.

There are only three kinds of people during this quarantine: those who’ve baked bread, those thinking about baking bread, and those wondering why every single person they know is baking bread.