Lights off, chairs up, doors locked, and a sign on the door.
It’s becoming a more common site at local businesses as the shoulder season slowly bleeds into winter.
Some, expecting a downturn in business, opt to reduce hours and take some time off of work ahead of a busy winter. No sense turning on the lights if no one is walking through the door and spending the money needed to keep them on.
For others, the problem runs deeper and isn’t simply a symptom of shoulder season. A lack of available (or some believe willing) workers is pushing business owners to close their doors for sanity’s sake. Burning out the existing staff would do nothing but tank the enterprise for good.
It’s not as though this is a new development; rather, it’s a prolonged extension of an existing issue. Over the summer, businesses found that their “Help Wanted” signs and classified ads were yielding very little in the way of interested workers.
Four months later, it appears nothing has truly changed.
In Bishop, Manor Market recently changed its hours to close earlier.
Down the street, Burger Barn opted to close for a day.
Both businesses, it seems, took their approaches due to lack of staffing.
In Mammoth Lakes, one rental company is offering $23/hour for housekeepers with seasonal and signing bonuses; hotels are offering similar rates and looking for anyone to work maintenance, front desk, and night audit positions.
Eastern Sierra Transit Authority is offering $1,000 as a signing bonus for anyone interested in working as a bus driver.
Take a cruise through the Classifieds page and see for yourself.
Giovanni’s and The Stove owner Victoria Farber told The Sheet that the issue “isn’t finding employees, it’s that the ones that we find…struggle to find a place to live.”
Some of the employees that Farber has hired recently either already have a place to live locally or are living in June Lake and/or Crowley, making inclement weather a factor in getting to work.
Both businesses have reduced their hours; Giovanni’s now closes for a few hours in the middle of the day and The Stove closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Stove, she said, is more of a summer business; skiers don’t go out for breakfast as much as hikers might.
For right now, “We have the staff,” Farber said, “but it puts our kitchen into a major overtime situation.”
Farber stated that although patrons have been asking for Giovanni’s to reopen all day, the afternoon closure has worked well for giving employees a break. She said that reverting to all-day service this season isn’t likely.
Tom Cage, Kittredge Sports and P3 Freeride owner, said that he is currently looking for staff “so we don’t have to reduce our hours.” It’s a problem that Cage says he’s been dealing with for awhile.
“We’re just finding it hard to find people who want to work,” Cage said, adding that every local businesses he enters these days has a help wanted sign up front.
The town, he says, is in trouble; businesses are finding it harder and harder to give the level of service that they want to.
Cage has reduced both shops by 3 hours per day, a choice he’s continued since the summer and even implemented last winter.
He said he and his staff are willing to do whatever they can to avoid closing one day per week, calling that scenario “a reality on the horizon, and boy, I don’t like that horizon.”
Cage pointed to the Parcel project groundbreaking as a step in the right direction, but questioned when the project’s next phases would begin construction. He expressed worries that large-scale developers (i.e. hotels) would see the Parcel housing as a sign to start their own projects, a plan that could create demand for more jobs but also necessitate additional housing.
Cage couldn’t make it to the groundbreaking, he explained, because he was working open to close at one of his shops in order to give his manager a few days off before the winter rush.
While Joe Mueller, owner-operator at the Austria Hof Hotel, said that he’s been able to retain his employees, he hasn’t had great success at finding new ones.
He added a now familiar anecdote: “I’ve got a guy that wants a job but he’s got no place to live.”
“My staff is pretty good, they come back, they’ve been with us for years,” Mueller said, “I try to take care of them.”
Mueller is reopening the Austria Hof restaurant on Saturday, November 6, about three weeks earlier than the normal Thanksgiving open.