Tue. Dec 7th, 2021
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A variety of storefronts line the town square in Carthage, Texas.

(Connor Sheets / Los Angeles Times)

As in many small Texas communities, life in Carthage centers around a town square where locally owned businesses still populate most of the storefronts. Truck drivers carrying lumber and feed pass through the square en route to nearby Marshall or Nacogdoches, stopping off for a burger at the Texas Tea Room or a quick trim at a barbershop called “Jesus Shaves.”

Kelly and Scott Reeves own an old-fashioned soda fountain on the square in Carthage called Sunflower Mercantile. Much of their business is in the Blue Bell ice cream and sandwiches they serve to locals and passers-through, but recently they’ve had more trouble with their gift shop.

“We ordered a lot of stuff for Christmas season, which is one of our big seasons, and it never came in,” Scott Reeves told me on Oct. 23. “I called and the reps can’t tell you when it’s coming either. It’s all stuck in transit, a lot from Asia — China, Vietnam — so we had to cancel a lot of orders.”

Most concerning, Scott Reeves said, is the fact that “it doesn’t seem to be getting better.” A Vietnamese manufacturer told him on Oct. 22 that it didn’t know when he should expect delivery of toys he ordered months ago. Another company that offered free shipping in past years recently charged the store $500 to deliver less than $2,000 of merchandise.

“The shipping is killing us and we don’t want to raise prices, but unfortunately we’re probably going to have to,” Scott Reeves said.

Column One

A showcase for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.

Two Polaroid film photos from Carthage, Texas, taken by Connor Sheets.

Top: Kelly and Scott Reeves, owners of Sunflower Mercantile, are considering raising prices in response to supply chain issues. Below: Jeremy Cain, who manages the family business Cain True Value Hardware, and Nick John, a yard hand and delivery driver for Cain Hardware, say they’re feeling the effects of shipping delays.

(Connor Sheets / Los Angeles Times)

A short walk away, Jeremy Cain described similar shortages. He manages the family business, Cain True Value Hardware, and said he’s having trouble getting everything from HardiBacker cement board to certain types of paint.

“The most common primer, we gotta wait ‘til December for,” Cain said. “We finally got some PVC pipe and it’s $130 for a 24-foot piece. Used to be about 40-something dollars.”

Though many of the economic issues driving today’s supply chain crunch first emerged while Donald Trump was president and were exacerbated by the pandemic, the current administration gets most of the blame in heavily conservative parts of the country like Panola County, Texas — home to Carthage — where Trump received more than four times as many votes as Joe Biden did in the 2020 election.

Nick John, a yard hand and delivery driver for Cain Hardware, blames the price increases and shipping delays on “inflation and politics,” and Cain chimed in to add “and this current president.” But sales at his shop have increased in recent months, which Cain chalked up to fears of runaway inflation and widespread concern in east Texas over the way the economy is headed under Biden.

“People are stocking up because people think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

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