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Navigating Inflation: Tyrone businesses deal with fluctuating food costs

Julia Wilt in the Tyrone Sandwich & Six Pack Shop on Feb. 25, 2023
Alicia Chiang
News Lab at Penn State
Julia Wilt, the owner of the Tyrone Sandwich & Six Pack Shop says they've had to make substitutions to keep down costs. She hopes events this summer will bring in more customers.

In an unassuming building on the southern side of Tyrone, the owners of Tyrone Sandwich and Six Pack Shop got ready for a long day, moving crates of beer and stocking the crowded shelves.

Julia Wilt of Sinking Valley has owned the restaurant and beer store for five and a half years. Her involvement in the food industry means she’s been feeling the effects of inflation, which was rising when we spoke in February despite the Federal Reserve’s best efforts. Food costs have since come down some, but remain high.

Inflation primarily affects her shop’s meat products and takeout containers. Wilt said she has kept costs down by using substitutions, like giving customers glass beer bottles to drink out of instead of plastic cups. Still, she faces competition from big brand convenience stores nearby.

“In the past few years, the challenge has been that grocery stores and Kwik Mart and places like that are carrying some beer items for people for convenience,” Wilt said. “However, we're still old school. We like to bring in different IPAs, different products that you won't see in those places.”

Wilt is feeling the complicated effects of the economy. She said customer numbers are down, and have been since last year.

“This year has been significantly challenging,” Wilt said. “People aren't having as much money that they had. So, you can feel, with those numbers, them trying to navigate through, ‘What do we need? What do we want? What can I have?’”

Nationwide, consumer spending has stayed high, prompting higher interest rates and creating a confusing picture. This leaves some—including many residents of Blair County—struggling with the higher costs of goods and unsure about the future.

Going forward, Wilt and her husband, Eric, who manages the shop’s finances, hope to lean on events, specials, and a potential extension down the road to bring in more customers.

“We're just looking forward to the upcoming summer months of 2023,” Wilt said. “We're hoping that we start to see an increase in our revenue, we hope to see more availability of products and items that we use, and to be able to offer our customers many more choices.”

Andy and Brittany Hoover at Bake Shop Bakes in Tyrone, Pa.
Alicia Chiang
News Lab at Penn State
Andy and Brittany Hoover own Bake Shop Bakes in Tyrone, Pa. They've been dealing with the fluctuating costs of food and have changed driving habits to save money.

Similarly hopeful is Andy Hoover, the co-owner of Bake Shop Bakes, which has locations in Tyrone, Altoona, and Clearfield.

The rising cost of eggs has been his shop’s primary budgetary concern. The avian flu, increased demand and shrinking flocks of laying hens combined to drive the cost of a dozen eggs up60% in December from the year before.

“We went through the chicken spike, then the egg spike, then lettuce. Lettuce literally went from $24 a case to $108 a case,” Hoover said.

And even though gas prices have fallen from their recent peak, they’re still high. Hoover said that’s changed his driving habits.

“I have my own vehicle. It's a lot more comfortable to drive than one of our little transit vans,” Hoover said, “but I made that switch to the van, which literally cost half of what my luxury vehicle cost, you know what I mean? So, just little steps that you gotta make to find a way to get through it.”

Natasha Garbinsky, 33, call representative at Inspection Go in Tyrone, Pa. on Feb. 25, 2023.
Alicia Chiang
News Lab at Penn State
Natasha Garbinsky is a call representative at InspectionGo (iGo) in Tyrone. She says they've been hiring recently.

Finding a way to get through it is also what consumers like Natasha Garbinsky are doing in response to higher prices.

“Just cutting back eating eggs, for example. Just like that simple thing of everyday life that, you know, really impacts you that you don't think about until it becomes more expensive,” Garbinsky said.

Garbinsky and her husband have lived in Tyrone for four years. She works scheduling appointments for InspectionGo (iGo), a home inspection company, and they’re currently hiring.

“We're just trying to grow our business a little bit more since we're taking on more companies. So we're doing some hiring right now to basically hire contact center representatives,” Garbinsky said.

This, too, is in line with national trends, as the number of jobs in both private and government sectors rose by more than 300,000 in February—more than officials expected. Hiring did slow some in March. Garbinsky remained positive.

“I feel like a lot of people know a lot of people because it's a small town,” Garbinsky said. “So very small-oriented, family-oriented town, a lot of small businesses, which is nice, too, which, you know, I personally support those. So, I think it's a nice little town.”

For now, Garbinsky and others like her will need to keep navigating inflation the way they have been—one day at a time.

Find more stories of how people and businesses in Blair County are navigating inflation. In addition to feature stories, you’ll find 12 web-only mini-profiles from businesspeople, workers, retirees and young people talking about how the economy is affecting them.

Lilly Riddle is a student reporter with the News Lab at Penn State.
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