As the pandemic clenched its grip on America last spring, canceling vacations, halting sports, closing schools, testing the limits of broadband by transitioning jobs from the physical workplace to the digital universe, many South Hills residents slowly came to realize they would be spending a lot of time at home.

All of that newfound free time around the house had many daydreaming about what improvements they could make. Millions of Americans became avid gardeners. Yards were as beautiful as ever, being meticulously cut and cared for. Local nurseries were selling out of plants, seeds, stone and mulch.

Andy Amrhein, who has owned Evey True Value Hardware in Bethel Park for nearly five decades, says customers were entering his store in droves.

“They were asking me about everything,” Amrhein says, “from the best organic yard products that won’t harm their pets to advice on how to turn an extra bedroom or den or basement into a home office. We had a tough time keeping patio furniture in stock.”

There were so many decks being built a lumber shortage shot prices through the roof. Fire pits were flying off the shelves, the sweet smell of smoldering maple wafting through the air of many area neighborhood around dusk.

Many South Hills homes were transformed into not only the places families lived, but also worked, learned, taught and entertained.

“It was the single biggest year in Evey True Value’s history for home gardening products,” Amrhein says. “Customers started calling them ‘Victory Gardens’ as they did during World War II when food was scarce and the government urged its citizens to produce their own fruits and vegetables.”

But summer waned, grass stopped growing and gardens no longer produced as brisk weather took hold across Western Pennsylvania. 2020 gave way to 2021.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is currently experiencing one of the highest snow totals on record. Shoveling driveways and sidewalks has become part of many people’s morning routines. Rock salt is scarce and shovels are worn. But spring is near, as the pandemic enters its second year.

Whether because of product shortages, overbooked contractors, or multiple phased projects, many area residents are planning to pick up on home improvement projects that were started last year.

“The home improvement projects people are coming to talk to me about seem to be a continuation of last spring,” Amrhein says. “We are already on our second order of garden seeds, organic soils and peat moss. People are arriving with drawings of gardens, presenting plans to my staff. (They are) inquiring about when fencing and other gardening products will arrive at the store.”

Some of Evey True Value’s most popular spring products are the various types of Scott’s Turf Builder, Jiffy Seed Starter Pots, Miracle-Gro Quick Start Planting Tablets, NK starter seeds and Audobon lantern bird feeders among others.

For those planning to have a bustling food garden this spring, it’s best to start growing the seeds inside now and then transfer them outside when the weather warms up. Amrhein says Evey True Value has all of the products needed to begin this type of project including starter seeds, fertilizer, growing containers and lighting.

One of the more interesting trends Amrhein says he and his staff have noticed over the past year is the creative reuse of wood pallets for furniture, gardens and other projects around the house.

Amrhein says the most important thing to remember when embarking on a home improvement project this spring is to not “be afraid to try it.”

“Maybe you’ll fail, maybe you won’t,” he says. “If you fail it can be fixed and you move forward. If you build a garden and it doesn’t work, study up and see how it can be better. Don’t hesitate to ask the experts who work in our store, they’ve been there and done it all. We independent retailers hire experts.”

2020 was unforgettable for many reasons, both good and bad, but with warmer weather and sunshine ahead in 2021 there are many reasons for optimism.

“It’s going to be a good year,” Amrhein says.