Saskatoon

'It's almost like it's the next toilet paper': Jigsaw puzzles see surge in popularity during pandemic

Aaron Williams doesn't fit the typical demographic of an avid jigsaw puzzler. But a trip to Puzzle Master in Saskatoon a couple of years ago got the 27-year-old hooked on jigsaw puzzles. Now everyone is doing jigsaw puzzles.

Demand is so big suppliers and retailers are running out of stock

Puzzles are being rediscovered by so many people that supplies are running low. (Supplied by Aaron Williams)

Aaron Williams may not fit your mental picture of an avid jigsaw puzzler, but a trip to Puzzle Master in Saskatoon a couple of years ago got the 27-year-old hooked.

Williams is into all types of puzzles and puzzle boxes, but when he saw the huge jigsaw room in the store it piqued his interest.

"I poked my nose in there and thought, 'Cool, I should try one, and then got hooked on it,'" he said.

Little did Williams know he was ahead of the curve. 

Everyone seems to be into jigsaw puzzles, so much so that supplies are running low across North America.

"We've had a business for 30 years and we've never seen anything like this," said Leon Stein, vice-president of marketing with Puzzle Master.

"We usually have you know six months, eight months supply. We ran out in five days."

Stein said there's been a worldwide surge in demand for jigsaw puzzles.

"The suppliers are running out, the retailers like us are having trouble finding puzzles to order again. It seems like everybody who's staying home is ordering a jigsaw puzzle."

Dave Manga with Outset Media in Victoria, which make games including Cobble Hill jigsaw puzzles, said he hasn't seen anything like it.

"It's almost like it's the next toilet paper," Manga joked.

Leon Stein with Puzzle Master in Saskatoon says the demand for jigsaw puzzles has never been higher. (Supplied by Leon Stein)

Manga said the demand is more than the usual lead-up before Christmas.

It has been hard to keep up, as they have reduced their staff because of the COVID-19 pandemic and many puzzle manufacturers have shut down.

"We can't replenish the puzzles," Manga said. "So every day more and more puzzles are selling out and it's been something I just couldn't have predicted."

At Paper Umbrella in Regina, jigsaw puzzles were not one of the main items in the store, but they have been a ray of sunshine through the gloom of the pandemic.

"It's kind of nice because our sales have significantly dropped off," said Paper Umbrella co-owner Brad Kreutzer. "And here we found a little bit of a nugget within our product offering that we can kind of help people."

Aaron Williams says he likes to do puzzles with plenty of objects in them. (Supplied by Aaron Willams)

Popularity

Paper Umbrella's other owner, Theresa Kutarna, said a puzzle is something you can slow down and concentrate on.

"You have to focus when you're working on that puzzle and you're getting it sorted out. It just sort of calms your inner space," Kutarna said. "And of course you're creating something beautiful."

Stein said people stuck at home are realizing they have the time to do a puzzle.

"They're sitting down saying, 'What can I do for these next days, weeks?' And they've all known about jigsaws and they all kind of enjoy them." 

Shirley Jacobs has been piecing together puzzles for decades. Jacobs, who lives in Weyburn and will celebrate her 90th birthday in June, said she's been doing puzzles since she was a little girl.

Every year her children usually give her a challenging puzzle to work on.

They outdid themselves last year by giving her an 18,000 piece puzzle.

"It's a library and it's all different shelves and books and then there's all kinds of other little bits of stuff thrown in," Jacobs said of the massive puzzle.

Jacobs did the puzzle in four sections, working on her dining room table. Once each section was completed it was put on a piece of plywood. 

"I did the next [section] on top and I stacked them until I had the four pieces done," Jacobs said. "Then I moved all the furniture out of the centre of the living room with my son's help. We put the boards on the floor and we pushed them together."

She finished in February and just recently put it away after letting friends and neighbours come over to have a look.

Manga said puzzles have a nostalgia that pulls people in.

"It's comforting. It's something that takes a long time too," he said.

"A puzzle could last you four or five days. So there's a challenge to it but there's a simplicity to it that's quite satisfying too."

Williams agrees it is comforting putting together a puzzle.

"I think it's kind of just a relaxing cathartic thing to do, the way you see your progress as you go, and something to feel good about even though you're really not accomplishing that much at the end of the day.

Paper Umbrella co-owner Brad Kreutzer and Theresa Kutarna with some vintage puzzles. (Supplied by Paper Umbrella)

What's hot

Stein said jigsaws are personal. He is selling everything from beautiful landscapes to animals and fantasy settings.

He's also selling quite a few larger puzzles, 2,000 pieces and up.

"We have one that goes up to 40,000 pieces. I think it's 29 feet by seven feet," he said.

Manga said the most popular puzzle they've ever done is a sea of doughnuts.

"It was just a whole bunch of doughnuts," Manga said. "We bought plain doughnuts and we covered them with all kinds of colourful icing and we laid them out on a table and took a picture."

Kreutzer said a lot of their puzzles have vintage designs, from floral prints to celestial pictures to the human body.

They also draw inspiration from social media.

"There's this dog sensation on Instagram called Momo and we're bringing a couple of those in as well," Kreutzer said.

Cobble Hill's Mad Hatters Tea Party puzzle. (Worksphotography2019)

New demographic

Manga said their usual customer is older, but that has changed.

"[There's] a whole new type of customer coming in that doesn't fit the traditional demographic," he said, adding "Hopefully some of them all enjoy it and keep doing it."

Williams said his age group appears to be coming back to puzzles, even streaming their work on social media.

"I've actually seen Twitch Streamers [who are usually playing video games] starting to do jigsaws on the streams which is kind of weird."

He thinks puzzles were making a comeback before COVID-19, but that the pandemic became the catalyst for the craze to take off.

Stein said his usual puzzle customer is 65 and older, but he has seen people of all ages ordering in the past few weeks.

Puzzle Master is allowed to have customers pickup products outside the building or have them shipped.

"Our local traffic has increased a lot because people are looking and they can't find jigsaws even on Amazon right now."

Aaron Williams finds doing puzzles cathartic in a way. (Supplied by Aaron Williams)

Dwindling stocks

Manga said they are getting fewer and fewer puzzles every day and customer demand is rising.

"At this time of the year most of the customers we sell to might buy two of that puzzle, three of that one or, you know, they mix and match," Manga said. "But right now they're buying 12 of every image."

Stein said their orders have gone from being able to get 60 puzzles to now being able to secure just a dozen.

"That's how quick they're running out and that's within two weeks."

Kutarna said they have a few more puzzles coming in, though the numbers continue to dwindle.

"We ordered some and had them arrive and within 24 hours they were all gone or they were all spoken for."

She's been overwhelmed by the support in these trying times.

"We all are extremely grateful because there are some people who are seeking us out at this time and it's just been a wave of gratitude not just for our store but all our local businesses," she said.

About the Author

Scott Larson works for CBC News in Saskatoon. scott.larson@cbc.ca

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