Searching for an Electric Fan in SoCal

Like much of the nation suffering through the current deadly heat wave, it's hotter than usual in Southern California. The heat has prompted a surge in demand for electric fans — but bare store shelves has left some customers steaming hot.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

An odd result of the heat wave in Southern California, a rush on electric fans that's left store shelves empty and customers steaming. We sent senior producer Steve Proffitt out in search of what would be just another household appliance most anywhere else.

STEVE PROFFITT, reporting:

Folks in Los Angeles, especially those who live on the west side of the city count on cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean to keep things moderate. Many, if not most, don't have air conditioning. In fact it seems, many didn't even have electric fans and they quickly cleaned out the supply at local retailers.

Do you have any fans?

Mr. SANTOS MANTIANO(ph): We'll have some later on this afternoon.

PROFFITT: Santos Mantiano of B&B Hardware in west LA, says just last week before temperatures began to break records, he had fifty fans in stock.

Mr. MANTIANO: They stayed here for a while. When the heat hit - I mean they went.

PROFFITT: Ditto for several other hardware and house ware stores I tried, with no luck at the office supply place, either. But then I got a tip in my hunt for the elusive electric fan.

Okay, we're in the parking lot of the Costco, which is a big - I guess they call it a big box retailer. There's a car alarm going off. And I have heard that perhaps there are fans for sale here, if you get here early enough to get one.

Turns out my tip was a good one.

Mr. JORGE FRESIADO(ph): Today we got a shipment in of both A/Cs and fans.

PROFFITT: Jorge Fresiado is a manager at Costco. He says it's a small shipment but all he could get and it will probably all be gone in an hour.

Mr. FRESIADO: It's crazy. The nearest stores that have them is the Hawaiian Island stores, so I doubt anybody's going to make a trip over there for that.

PROFFITT: Now Costco requires shoppers to buy a membership card and those who pay extra to register as business customers get to go in early. Everybody else has to wait until 10:00 a.m. At a little past nine, already, a lot of regular customers are lined up waiting.

DOROTHY: Other people get to get in first while we wait. And we watch and count the fans as they come out.

PROFFITT: That's Dorothy, she's here with her friend Annette. About a dozen other folks are waiting too, hoping to score a fan. I see a guy coming out of the exit with one and chase after him.

How did you know that you could get this fan here?

Unidentified male: I work here.

PROFFITT: Oh. As Dorothy and Annette look on, more and more shoppers emerge with the object of their desire. A forty-inch tall tower fan that comes complete with a remote.

Can I ask you a question? You have three fans there.

Unidentified female: Four.

PROFFITT: Four. Forty inch - you have 160 inches of fan here.

Unidentified female: Right. (laughs) I could use more.

PROFFITT: Finally, Dorothy and Annette and the others are granted entrance, as elite shoppers continue to carry out fan after fan. Since the guy at the door wouldn't accept my press pass as a membership card, I find a little patch of shade and wait for my new fan-seeking friends to emerge. Finally, I see Annette, she's empty handed. Wait, wait, wait, wait now I don't, I don't see you carrying a fan. Where's your fan?

ANNETTE: Those people who pay the fee for the business, they got them, and the inside employees got them.

PROFFITT: And there's none left for the folks like you and me?

ANNETTE: Oh no. No. Oh I know, we have hundreds of them, in Hawaii. Is that a bitch? (laughs)

PROFFITT: Well, here's an idea. We could fly to Hawaii, buy a bunch of fans and bring them back, and sell them and pay for our trip.

ANNETTE: yeah, some people will probably try to do that.

PROFFITT: Okay I'm going to call my travel agent. I'll see you later. Bye bye.

ANNETTE: Bye.

PROFFITT: At the Costco warehouse store on the west side of LA, Steve Proffitt, NPR News.

CHADWICK: Stay with us, NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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