Mike Copeland: Home improvement buzzing; Building permit roundup; Gas prices plummeting | Business

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In a sea of vacant parking lots covering much of Waco, the Lowe’s home improvement store at Franklin Avenue and New Road stood as an island of bustling commerce on Saturday before last. Despite the threat of COVID-19, exhortations to stay hunkered down at home and to maintain social distancing when venturing out, Lowe’s was abuzz, even as skies threatened and then delivered on the threat of heavy rains and street flooding here and there.

Apparently, folks are seeking treatment for cabin fever by pursuing ingredients to tackle that long-postponed list of honey-do’s.

“We’re selling a little bit of everything: lumber, Sheetrock, fence pickets. We’re staying busy,” said Jon Vanwinkle, a four-year employee at Lowe’s who now supervises the lumber department. “We have the normal contractors coming in, but we’re seeing a lot of new faces. I’m guessing that with offices closed, people are deciding to take care of home projects.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said a voice on the line at Keith Ace Hardware, 9701 Salem Way, when asked if sales had picked up as the coronavirus makes its presence felt. She recited the list of merchandise, even those not routinely associated with hardware stores, attracting the most attention. The rundown included plants, lawn and garden supplies, paint and fixer-upper necessities.

Though swamped, the stores continue to take precautions that include additional cleaning and constantly wiping down surfaces, she said.

Circle Hardware Supply, on La Salle Avenue a short walk from Magnolia Table, has been stocking and restocking with “random gloves, random masks and, every once in a while, toiler paper, spray disinfectant, paper towels, bleach, anything people are looking for to make their homes safe, closing manager Kelli Breedlove said, well before closing time.

Circle Hardware is tailoring its product mix to demand, Breedlove said.

Then there are the regulars, the businesses with accounts at Circle Hardware, including apartment maintenance crews replenishing their supplies of lumber, PVC pipe, light bulbs, even garbage disposals, she said.

At Orscheln Farm & Home, Bagby Avenue and South Valley Mills Drive, manager Shelly Wittman said she has noticed a run on animal feed, including dog food, and on cleaning supplies, firearms and ammunition. Not surprisingly, with spring producing showers and high grass, she is selling lawn mowers, parts for mowers and lawn chemicals at a rapid clip, Wittman said.

“All last week the craziness was here,” she said. “It picked up about when the scare started, then leveled a little bit.”

She said she is making do with short staffing as employees with compromised immune systems are staying home.

April Morris, office secretary at Westview Nursery on North Valley Mills Drive, said customers are taking advantage of curbside pickup and home delivery to maintain social distancing.

“People call in, let us know what they want, and we get it together for them,” Morris said. “They come inside and pay, one person at a time.”

It also delivers within a 5-mile radius of Waco at no charge.

GreenLife Nursery and Landscaping owner Brett Boyd told a different story when asked about the fortunes of his decades-old greenhouse on New Road.

“We’re down 50%,” he said matter of factly. “A lot of people are scared, fearful of where their next check is coming from. Back in 2008, money got scarce, and customers got scarce. This past Monday, a lot of people were out in their yards, which would have happened with our without the coronavirus, because it was coming off the first semi-nice weekend in a long time. Weather is a huge factor in this business, and it’s been awfully wet. We had 11 inches of rain in February, and totals are above normal in March.”

Boyd said he would not speak for his competitors in the market.

“But in the course of business, I drive by and see their places two or three times a week. … My traffic doesn’t look right but neither does theirs.”

Building permits

The coronavirus and its implications have dampened a multitude of activities, but construction companies and contractors continue to secure permits to build, remodel and reroof, according to the Central Texas chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Proof lies in the impressive lineup from the seven days through Wednesday, as outlined in the association’s newsletter:

  • Zinkpower has secured a $15 million permit to build a galvanizing plant at 7401 Mars Drive, with locally owned Mitchell Construction getting the job. Zinkpower’s investment will total $32 million, and it will fill 100 positions.
  • An estimated $1.04 million will be spent converting warehouse space to office space at 711 Venture Drive, according to a permit.
  • KDK Group has secured a $300,000 permit to create a sleep lab at 2324 Marketplace Drive, near Central Texas Marketplace.
  • Perryman & Wilson has taken out permits to build seven one-story duplexes at 3229 Belmont Drive, near Interstate 35 in South Waco.
  • A $1.2 million permit has been issued for a replica of the Second Presbyterian Church built in 1894 at 510 N. 13th St. The church building, which now is owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines, has been partially demolished, with salvaged materials to be used in the replica.

Greater Waco Chamber conference call

In a related matter, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce will host a teleconference at 1 p.m. Monday for general contractors to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their industry, according to the Associated General Contractors newsletter.

Chamber leadership will provide an update on “rapidly emerging state and federal business financing and workforce policies.” Participants will be able to ask questions and voice concerns.

The call-in number is 254-244-5885, and callers who encounter difficulty are encouraged to keep calling because of possible high demand.

The massive $2.2 trillion relief bill President Donald Trump signed into law Friday allows for $367 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses, according to a summary by the chamber. Businesses with up to 500 employees could be eligible for up to $10 million in small business interruption loans, depending on their average monthly expenses, in addition to several other loan and grant programs.

Gas prices

Travel options continue to dwindle, but getting there is a bargain.

GasBuddy.com announced Friday the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded just slipped to less than $2 nationally for the first time since March 23, 2016, settling in at $1.99 from coast to coast.

“In the last week, 99-cent prices have shown up at various times in Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Missouri,” according to the press release.

Drops of 25 to 65 cents per gallon could be forthcoming, the report states.

“World demand for oil has plummeted virtually overnight while domestic demand for gasoline continues to fall off a cliff with more states implementing shelter-in-place orders,” GasBuddy head petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said in the press release.

Photos: Scenes from across America as nation responds to coronavirus pandemic

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