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Portlanders scramble to find air conditioners as heat wave hits

The owner of Ankeny Hardware in Southeast Portland said he hopes to have air conditioners for sale until Saturday.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The onset of Portland’s heat wave has sent a lot of people shopping for air conditioners, and some are kicking themselves for putting it off.

As of Monday, pickings are slim in the Portland metro area. A few stores still have some in stock, including a small business in Southeast Portland.

“We always say, ‘you can't fix anything with a rain check,’ so it doesn't do us any good to say we don't have [air conditioners],” said Norm Chusid, owner of Ankeny Hardware at Southeast 11th and Stark. 

For that reason, Chusid said he starts every summer with about 500 air conditioning units in stock. This season, he added an additional 200 units, anticipating supply chains issues.

“This year we were told they were going to be hard to get because where are they made? Wuhan, China. That’s where the majority of the manufacturing is,” said Chusid. “A lot of that is still shut down. They told us, you're going to have to get them in by December.”

Chusid said they sold around 50 air conditioners on Monday alone and would likely have enough inventory to last until Saturday. He said some customers bought more than one AC unit, including a man who purchased 12 of them after his apartment building lost central air conditioning.

RELATED: Where to stay cool in the Portland area during the heat wave this week

“They were amazed,” said Chusid. “They said, ‘We've been traveling all over town and we can't find any!’ We had them.”

Phone calls to Lowe’s on Monday afternoon showed the big box store had around 80 AC units spread across about half a dozen locations in the Portland metro area. An associate said they were selling fast and inventory numbers weren't precise. 

Calls placed to Home Depot yielded similar results. One associate preemptively said, “We have no ACs,” when they answered the phone. They directed KGW to the Happy Valley Home Depot, which had just received a shipment of 400 AC units on Monday. 

When reached, an associate at that store said they had sold all but 30 AC units in that shipment within two hours. The associate also said the others would likely be gone very quickly.

College student Molly Moir was shopping for an air conditioner at Home Depot when she struck out. She was surprised and grateful when an associate at the customer service desk sent her to Ankeny Hardware.

“I'm really thankful that the person at Home Depot had a contact,” said Moir. “I know it can be really hard when other people say, ‘I don't know, other places should have them. Maybe Target?’ Target was fully sold out.”

RELATED: Tenants face eviction over window AC units at a low-income housing complex in Newberg

Many air conditioning units run between $400 and $500. They're an investment not everyone can afford. 

Over the weekend, the Oregon Health Authority teamed up with community groups to deliver 500 AC units to those in need. They hope to get 3,000 AC units to distribute by the end of summer. After last year's deadly heat wave, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1536, which put $5 million dollars toward that investment.

For those fortunate enough to have homes already equipped with air conditioning, Chusid said it’s important that they remember to change their furnace filters.

“If your furnace filter is clogged up and you have AC, you can ruin your AC,” said Chusid. “It can actually freeze like a big ice cube and it takes a couple days to thaw.”

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