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Jeff Billman poses next to the selection of Christmas decorations at Billman's Inc. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across North America, the effects of the novel Coronavirus are continuing to be felt by communities, organizations and especially small businesses. In Montana, the Golden Triangle region has been no exception to this with several of the area’s hardware stores struggling to obtain inventory. 

“There have been a variety of things that we just aren’t able to get our hands on,” Billman’s Inc. co-owner Jeff Billman said. “We have continued to submit orders for them (since March) but a lot of the stores our size just aren’t seeing that product here.” 

In reaction to the pandemic, international border closings and production plants within the country have gone through layoffs as well as spurts of shutting down due to outbreaks of the virus within them. As a result, the limited amount of product that is being manufactured for hardware and retail stores is being sent out to larger retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and so on, Billman noted. 

“It’s really tough on smaller businesses and it can be felt throughout this area especially,” Shelby Paint and Hardware owner Kevin Mitchell said. “This is a hard time that local businesses are going through, and there really isn’t much that we can do to fill some of these holes on our shelves but wait.” Mitchell added, “We have, however, been able to bring a good variety of toys and items for the holidays.” 

The shortage has ranged from a multitude of items including appliances and furniture to tools, cleaning supplies and lumber. Local businesses have received estimated wait times for products that range anywhere from several weeks to months. 

One of the saving graces for Billman’s Inc. has been its contract with Whirlpool, who is the store’s sole provider of appliances. Due to that contract, Billman’s has received one of the higher priorities as a retailer for the brand, with customers coming from as far as Helena to Kalispell to shop for appliances that aren’t available in their hometowns.

DeVoe’s Builders Service in Valier has been hard-pressed in obtaining lumber and similar hardware. As the economy slowed in the spring, the ripple effect could be felt as layoffs hit warehouses and truckers nationwide, who were then unable to bring that demand for incoming goods to retailers and left their shelves without certain products, said Devoe’s owner Traci Swank. 

“Things have been out for months in our ACE warehouse because the lumber market was crippled by supply and transportation issues,” Swank noted. “Our customers have been very understanding and supportive, and we are one of the lucky small businesses in Montana to survive this pandemic.” 

Businesses on the Blackfeet Reservation have not been immune to these economic turns either, as Browning Lumber and Hardware has also seen shortages on its shelves and lumber yards. The store, which supplies much of the surrounding community with products ranging from cleaning supplies and ammunition to power tools and lumber, has had to resort to ordering anything they can to fill certain holes on their shelves. 

“As with every other business, we haven’t been able to get certain things ordered due to the national shortages,” Browning Lumber and Hardware owner April Bartleson said. “We have been working to get replacements for missing products in, even if that means ordering organic or natural cleaners. We want to supply the best products to our customers and stay cost-effective for them.” 

Despite these setbacks, owners like Billman, Mitchell, Bartleson and Swank have worked harder than ever to bring a strong sense of customer service to their clientele. 

“We really pride ourselves on our customer service and maintaining a helpful atmosphere in our store,” Billman said. “This pandemic isn’t something that we can control, but how we conduct ourselves here and in the community, that is something we can control.” 

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