British Columbia

Skyrocketing demand for Plexiglas leads to shortages, price hikes in Vancouver

Increased demand for Plexiglas barriers has led to shortages and price increases in Vancouver and one business owner says that could affect her plans to reopen.

Suppliers say they're struggling to fill orders for Plexiglas barriers as businesses prepare to reopen

Addel Silavi, co-owner of Plexiguards, holds a Plexiglas barrier made by his company in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Increased demand for Plexiglas barriers has led to shortages and price increases in Vancouver, and one business owner says that could affect her plans to reopen.

North Shore Plastics owner Martin Salter usually supplies Plexiglas barriers for the medical sector. He said it's been "chaos" after demand started to spike 10 weeks ago, and he hasn't taken a day off since.

"I'm getting hundreds of phone calls. People, suppliers looking for materials, everybody," he said.

"Hair salons, restaurants, bars, everything."

As businesses in the province prepare to reopen, many are implementing new protocols to keep staff and customers safe from COVID-19. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is recommending retail stores consider using physical barriers like Plexiglas shields in front of tills.

Addel Silavi, co-owner of Plexiguards in Vancouver, said his company is operating 18 hours a day to meet the demand.

Orders have spiked by almost 100 per cent in the past two weeks alone and turnaround time on orders has nearly doubled to about 15 days, he said.

He said he's having trouble getting enough Plexiglas from his supplier and that demand is driving up the price. 

"The Plexiglas price has gone up ... about 20 to 30 per cent if not more and continues to rise," he said.

Lure Salon owner Linda Refosco is looking for quotes on Plexiglas barriers to install at the front desk and shampoo stations at her downtown Vancouver business.

Personal services providers like hair salons are currently under order to remain closed by B.C.'s provincial health officer, but Refosco wants to be ready when that order is lifted.

She wants to be sure the salon can meet public health guidelines and WorkSafeBC protocols. The companies she's spoken to say prices have gone up and there's a wait due to demand.

If the order is lifted before her barriers arrive, she'll remain closed.

"The safety of our team is the most important thing to us, and our clients, of course," she said.

"We will not reopen until we meet all the guidelines."

Martin Salter, owner of North Shore Plastics, reaches under one of the Plexiglas shields at his North Vancouver office. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Some businesses have taken matters into their own hands.

When La Grotta Del Formaggio needed a Plexiglas barrier for its till area at its Commercial Drive deli in April, warehouse manager Brad Penner called around to see what was available.

A plastics supply company told him there would be a week-long wait, so he asked to buy a sheet of Plexiglas​​​​​​​ and make one himself.

Penner has some experience with woodworking and construction and the barrier turned out fine, but he recommends leaving the cutting to the professionals. 

"I don't imagine it would be something that most people could do," he said.

"If you use the wrong tools or do it the wrong way you could have shattered pieces of Plexiglas​​​​​​​."

There are alternatives to Plexiglas​​​​​​​, like polycarbonate sheets, Salter said, but it scratches more easily, costs about 50 per cent more, and it's tough to find due to demand, he added.

He expects to be busier than ever for the foreseeable future. 

"I got a feeling that the screens are going to be the new norm," he said. 

Plexiglas barriers like this one, built at Plexiguards, are in high demand. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)