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Grilling, gardening and building fire pits are just some of the activities and projects that have become more popular in the wake of a pandemic.

More people are staying at home, cooking and enjoying home-made meals and as the weather heats up, so will the grills and imaginations of chefs everywhere.

An uptick in gardening, both with beds of flowers and growing of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and parsley, among other vegetables, is apparent.

Andy Amrhein, long-time owner of Evey True Value on Library Road, Bethel Park, said the business has changed completely since the pandemic hit. It has evolved constantly and heading into the Fourth of July weekend in two weeks it continues to swell.

“The entire industry was turned upside down,” Amrhein said. “There is nothing common about this.”

Amrhein’s store has experienced all the phases from unparalleled demand for cleaning supplies and cleaning materials, toilet paper and paper towels, to plumbing needs, including plungers and snakes.

“Home projects then took hold,” he said. “Honey-do lists were being worked on. Painting projects in homes became popular. Woodworking, staining and organizing also became priorities. We had a run on totes, boxing and containers. Garbage bags, and gloves were in demand.

“We then sold more packs of seeds for gardens than ever before – beans, tomatoes, corn,” he added. “No one could keep lawn mowers, tillers, shovels, rakes, anything related to lawn care or gardening tools in stock. In some cases, we’d go through an entire year – or two years – of inventory for things. We sold 500 plungers in a short period of time. That’s usually our two-year inventory.

“I’m having gardening and lawn care conversations I had in the 1970s and early 1980s. It’s nice to see and to teach about these things. I thoroughly enjoy it and I’m glad people are taking ownership of their own yards and gardens.”

He said lawn mowers, chicken wire, grills and patio furniture sold out and even when supply was replenished those items are hard to locate for purchase.

“You can’t find deck boards or fire pits,” he added.

Joe Nelson, assistant manager for Millers’ Ace Hardware on Route 19 in Waterdam Commons, McMurray, has seen similar trends and adjusted its operations.

Nelson reported more online orders and certain upticks in the sale of patio furniture and barbecue grills.

“We’re happy people are shopping and for us to be open,” Nelson said. “We had to increase some shelving for the online orders. There’s been a steady rate of sales for grills. It definitely has changed our business.”

Miller’s Ace Hardware adjusted its hours in response to the pandemic and is open Monday and Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We’re running our normal summer specials,” Nelson said. “It definitely has been different.”

Home-cooked meals have become much more popular since the pandemic and family dinners have been a positive change, said master griller, Russell Johnson of Monessen.

Johnson who also manages The Pasta Shoppe Restaurant in Monessen and has two young daughters said more people are cooking.

“More people are posting (through social media and online) about cooking and the meals they are making,” he said. “The one good result of the pandemic, it has brought families together. They are sitting home and eating together. It’s brought a sense of community and family.”

Johnson said the grilling and barbecue season will flourish.

He has four grills at his home and does the grilling for his restaurant.

“There’s a giant push,” said Johnson, who operates The Pasta Shoppe with his wife, Nicole. “There are now smart grills, some connected to WiFi – a lot of set it and forget it. Some with Bluetooth capabilities. You can be inside and control the grill, which is outside.

“Really, there’s a lot out there,” he added. “Big and small. The technology is advancing. There are pellet grills and Treager. The travel pellet grills can sit right in the back of a pickup truck.”

Treager grills are the original wood fire grill. One can grill, bake, smoke, roast, braise and barbecue with the grill.

“There is definitely a push for more home grilling,” Johnson said. “Outdoor enthusiasts are out there in the markets. Most of the meals we cook at home are on the grills we have.”

Amrhein expects the outdoor activity, parties and grilling to be popular through the summer.

His store is again at regular hours, 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

He’s trying to fill orders and make the necessary deliveries. That remains a challenge.

“Typically, we sell 100 yards of mulch every three days,” he said. “Now, we’re selling 100 yards of mulch a day. It creates delivery issues.

“All of this happened in a period where we were operating with smaller staff and fewer hours. But we have been operating at regular hours the last couple weeks now and full staff. It’s good to be back and helping people. It’s been a very interesting year. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at chris@belocal.net. Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.

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