Hand sanitizer is one of the products Americans have been stockpiling during the coronavirus outbreak and that’s left many store shelves empty of the product.
That shortage is prompting companies like a small distillery in Falls Church, Virginia, to find creative ways to help.
Instead of producing whiskey, gin or vodka, Falls Church Distillers is busy making high-alcohol-content hand sanitizers.
“We've pivoted into making sanitization," says Michael Paluzzi, founder of Falls Church Distillers. "It's the same type of process we're using the same whiskeys, our base spirits, that we would use to make a lot of our other products.”
But production depends on access to raw materials.
“We're producing about 300 gallons of sanitizer right now," Paluzzi says. "We could easily do that every day if we could get the supplies. We can only get supplies every couple of [days, every] three days, because there's not many truckers on the road.”
Distillery workers say they’re happy to shift their business model because it helps the local community while also keeping them employed.
“I went on Amazon just to look at what was available on Amazon and it looks like people are ripping everyone off," says employee Kallie Stavros. "So it's nice to just kind of help the local community and still have a job. Actually, I feel really lucky right now.”
Locals appreciate the effort.
“Well I know he'd probably like to be making something other than sanitizer here," says customer Matthew Quinn, "but now this is a great idea that, you know, to fill a void in the marketplace and to have small businesses set up and work together to get this done.”
Paluzzi says it is essential to boost people’s morale and not take advantage of their fears by gouging prices.
"The price right now is important to us," he says. "That was a very, very important thing to us — to not gouge. You're seeing people buy up toilet paper or hand sanitizer, and then trying to charge exorbitant prices for that. That is part of what we were battling here, plus the need, and plus the reasonableness of fulfilling that need.”
How long the company's new direction might last is up in the air.
“This will keep us busy for a while I am sure," says Stavros. "As long as there is a need for the hand sanitizer, more than likely for the next few months — the ways it is looking like — we will be here.”
Falls Church Distillers is currently selling its sanitizers for $29 a gallon which, according to Paluzzi, is nearly half of the market price. The company also promises to set aside 5,000 ounces in 5-ounce bottles to give away for free.
“I think all of us are trying to do what we can," says customer Quinn. "I think seeing small businesses step up and provide this type of service is fantastic.”