Toilet paper customers clog Cheboygan warehouse for rare public sale

John L. Russell
Special to The Detroit News

Cheboygan — It doesn't matter if your car isn't No. 1 in line when you have to go No. 2.

Drivers stocked up this week when a commercial tissue company decided to offer cases of toilet paper to the public for cheap. Among the most enthusiastic purchasers and creative stackers was Sarah Fitzek of Gaylord, who bought more than her Mercedes could reasonably hold.

Laura Duncan of Gaylord is surrounded by rolls of toilet tissue after buying surplus rolls at the Great Lakes Tissue Company of Cheboygan.

In fairness, she drives a black C 300 sedan, not a musclebound SUV. Still, Fitzek stuffed her sedan so thoroughly that she had a question before she left the Great Lakes Tissue Company warehouse:

"Do you think the police will pull me over for having blocked windows?"

On a gray day on Wednesday, Great Lakes Tissue offered a ray of sanitary sunshine for consumers who apparently had been stymied in their search for what's become a hot commodity since the arrival of COVID-19.

Drivers began lining up at 4 a.m. for a sale scheduled to start at 10 a.m. The queue was more than three blocks long by 7:30 a.m. when the company decided to just go with the flow.

Great Lakes Tissue vice president Tori Beckett said 4,000 cases had been set aside for the public. The company's products, made from recycled materials, are typically reserved for commercial customers.

Each case held 96 rolls of tissue, priced at $21 to $24.50 per carton for wrapped, unwrapped or premium styles.

Kim Huskey, 41, of Kinross, filled her truck with 10 cases for the Sault tribe in Sault Ste. Marie. “I only had to wait in line for, like, an hour," she said. "It was worth it.”

Beckett called the sale "a great community service." Workers passed out order forms to waiting drivers, then collected payment and directed vehicles around a corner to the warehouse and a team of loaders from among the company's 100 employees.

Aerka St. John, 32, of St. Ignace stockpiled five cases for the Silver Sands Resort along the Lake Michigan shore west of the city.

Sarah Fitzek drives home to Gaylord with her Mercedes sedan full of toilet tissue Wednesday.

“We plan on opening our 13 log cabins in April, and this will help us prepare for the summer of visitors," she said.

Fitzek also ordered five cases, not realizing how much space 480 rolls would devour. She and friend Laura Duncan had to crack open the boxes and fill the cabin with loose rolls, even taking up Duncan's footwell and lap.

MIke Goddard, 28, right, works with others to load cases of toilet tissue on Wednesday.

More loose rolls surrounded a case in the trunk, and another driver heading south followed them home with the final box.

Fitzek reported later than while she did not receive a ticket, she got plenty of strange looks.

"We sort of created chaos, more than we expected," Beckett said. On the plus side, "We figured out our system and things will run a little more smoothly at our next sale."

Yes, the next sale. Great Lakes Tissue will ply its trade to the public again at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Workers passed along more than six semi-loads the first time, and there's no sense stopping when they're flush with success.

John L. Russell is a writer and photojournalist from Traverse City.