The hot spot in local hardware stores these days is the aisle with the anti-mold products.

But that hot spot has been moving around lately. Right after Hurricane Sandy swamped New Jersey and the Northeast, most of the action was in the trash aisle, store managers and workers say.

Now, “because of the flooding, everyone is getting mold and mildew products,” says Rob Fehn, the manager of Shore True Value Hardware, in Somers Point, standing in a store section whose selection has increased sharply in response to the demand.

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“Most of this stuff we stock normally. But we don’t stock a lot of it,” said Fehn, who has worked at the store for 12 years — and has never seen anything like he and other workers have experienced in the past three weeks.

In the days after the storm, one of the hottest items on shopping lists was contractor bags — heavy-duty, extra-large trash bags. The weekend after Sandy struck, a check of four open stores around Ventnor and Margate found all of them sold out of contractor bags.

“I might sell 20 to 40 (boxes) of them in a normal week,” Alison Dannehower, Shore True Value’s co-owner, said Sunday. “But then, we were selling 60 to 80 a week.”

Still, it’s not that the cleanup section of the stores has suddenly died. Lots of people are still getting their hands dirty — and at least trying not to get their hands damaged as they do.

“Gloves — I can’t keep gloves stocked,” Dannehower said, adding that other personal-protection items — goggles, respirators, masks and more — are also still in demand.

A few miles north, Rose Schafer said the cleanup section of Northfield Ace Hardware is still a draw.

“Bleach, cleaning products, contractor bags,” the store’s assistant manager said, ticking off some of the big sellers.

Still, she said demand had already slowed to close to normal levels, because although there was severe flooding just a few miles away, in Pleasantville, much of the store’s hometown didn’t do as badly.

And shortly after noon Sunday, the only thing on the shopping list for customer Ken Frank was an armload of oversized paper bags for him to stuff his leaves into.

“I’m in Northfield, and we were really lucky,” Frank said. “We have so many trees, and that’s why I’ve had to make several trips” for the big bags.

A few minutes later, another customer at the Northfield store came in just for picture hooks.

Down at Seashore Ace in Stone Harbor, veteran manager Mark Gittle has also seen the post-storm demand drop off already — in large part because most of that town was also spared severe flooding, he says. The main exception to that rule was streets near the bay, where along with high water, many residents also had their docks destroyed.

So his store had that expected trash rush, but it also had a completely unexpected run on gas cans.

“Up to this week ... they were actually coming down from New York to get them,” Gittle said. “We’ve had people sitting in our parking lot for three or four hours — waiting for gas cans. But that’s fallen off, and now we’re pretty much back to normal.”

Still, just as the big-selling items are constantly changing, so is the pace of business.

“We’re expecting another rush once the insurance companies settle, and the contractors start to repair and rebuild,” Gittle says. “Then, we’ll start to see more business.”

Back at her Somers Point store, Dannehower has already seen some of that rebuilding bump — her store is stocking drywall-installation accessories it doesn’t usually bother to carry.

And things have stayed so busy that workers are putting in extra hours — including the co-owner, who doesn’t normally go in on November Sunday mornings to analyze the inventory and fine-tune the store’s next order.

One concern for her is that Christmas-related sales might be hurt by the storm — at a time when the store would normally be gearing up for that business.

For now, though, selling supplies to customers trying to come back from Sandy is making up for that.

“But,” Dannehower said, looking back at the order on her computer, “we’re trying to gauge when this is going to slow down.”

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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