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All I want for Christmas is …

My neighbor and I exchange Christmas presents, but at our age we are not into surprises, and we certainly do not need any more knickknacks to clutter our homes.

Being practical, we tell each other what we want, usually in the $25 range. For example, last year I requested a gift card to Ruby Tuesday. A few months later, before I had a chance to use the card, the Ruby Tuesday in my area closed down because of slow sales and the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlucky me. Then the company filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 7.

This year, I put in my request three months before the holiday. I told my neighbor that I want a can of Lysol spray and a container of Clorox disinfectant wipes.

After he had finished doubling over in laughter, a strange look came over his face. That’s right. Reality set in. “Where the heck am I going to find those things?” he asked as it dawned on him that my request was the equivalent of asking for a ride on a rocket ship to Mars.

“That’s why I thought I would put in my order three months early,” I replied. I know he is a very resourceful person, and I am confident that he will succeed where I have not.

When I do my weekly shopping trip, between 6 and 7 a.m. on Tuesdays, the time set aside for us senior citizens, I make a beeline to the cleaning supplies aisle. Every time I am greeted by nearly bare shelves with notices that consumers are limited to two products per visit. Heck, I’d be grateful for one.

Since March I have been able to score one can of Lysol and two canisters of Clorox wipes, but as this supply has dwindled, I have been on a Sherlock Holmes-like mission to track down more. I have even enlisted several “Watsons” to enhance my search with, unfortunately, the same fruitless results.

I have seen the products advertised online at outrageously high prices, in some cases 10 times higher than the price I paid a few months ago, so I have made strategic trips to my favorite supermarket and elsewhere, but regardless of whether it is morning, noon or night, the result is the same: nothing but frustration. Sympathetic customer service personnel explain that the store cannot stock the products fast enough, and even in those rare instances when it does get a shipment of either product, it is gone within minutes.

One customer service representative said she has been offered “bribes” if she would set aside the products. Some have tried to use various techniques to persuade store personnel to relent. “I am in the high-risk category because of my age,” “my anxiety level is going through the roof because I fear getting the virus,” etc.

In prior years, Clorox reserved excess supply for flu season, which will be upon us shortly. Not this year, said former Clorox CEO Benno Dorer. “It’s a very complex supply chain,” he said, predicting that consumers will not see a return to normal supplies until sometime in mid-2021. This timetable was confirmed by Linda Rendle, former company president who took over as CEO on Sept. 14.

Clorox is making 1 million canisters of these wipes daily. If you would place them end to end, they would stretch from Lehighton to Cincinnati, and it’s still not enough.

“We’re certainly not at all happy with our service levels for our retail customers on many products,” Dorer told investors. “We have a high sense of urgency on this with all hands on deck.”

This does not bode well for my requested Christmas gift from my neighbor.

In researching why the disinfectant wipes that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are so hard to come by, I found that they are made of polyester spunlace, which itself is in short supply because it also is used in the manufacture of personal protective equipment such as medical gowns and masks.

Sales at Clorox increased 22% in the latest quarter, including a 33% jump in the cleaning products division. If you were smart enough to buy Clorox stock when the pandemic started to take hold in late February, your investment would have grown by 45% today.

Lysol is made by British-owned Reckitt Benckiser Group, which has U.S. facilities in Somerset and Morris counties in New Jersey. Its sales have similarly skyrocketed since the pandemic began and, especially, after its approval by two U.S. government agencies.

Although stores limit the number of purchases of Lysol spray and Clorox wipes to one or two per customer - even when they are available - there is way too much hoarding going on. Remember that these products do not last forever. According to Clorox, its wipes have a shelf life of a year, while Lysol says its spray has a shelf life of two years.

So no hoarding!

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com