Businesses across the neighborhoods served by MyVillager are struggling with staff shortages at a time when finding enough help has become a nationwide problem. Retailers and restaurants in particular have been using every conceivable method to attract new employees. Some have had to reduce their hours as the only way to give their otherwise overworked staffs or owners a day off.

Three stores in the 1500 block of Selby Avenue have been sharing two clerks among themselves. Kristie Case, who owns Teeny Bee Boutique and Leo’s Footwear, has been helping out at Spoils of Wear as well. “We can’t find anyone to work for us,” she said. “We had five people before COVID-19 struck, and now we have three.”
 
worker shortage
Business partners and neighbors Jill Erickson and Kristie Case have been sharing staff among their Selby Avenue shops: Teeny Bee Boutique, Leo’s Footwear and Spoils of Wear. Photo by Brad Stauffer
Down the street at Tennis on Selby, 1599 Selby Ave., owner Deb Irvine recently closed her store for the weekend so she could take a few days off, resulting in an estimated loss of a few thousand dollars in revenue. “It’s never been this bad before,” said Irvine, who has operated the shop for 11 years.
 
Restaurants have been especially hard-hit by the labor shortage. Neighborhood Cafe, 1570 Selby Ave., recently reopened after being closed for over a year due to the pandemic. Though three of owner Kris Masanz’s cooks returned to work after the long break, three cooks did not. As a result, the restaurant is no longer open seven days a week. Masanz has also had to eliminate dinner service and is now only open for breakfast and lunch from Wednesdays through Saturdays.

“We’re good,” she said, “but if I want to open more hours I’ll need a couple more cooks. I thought we’d be blown away with applications when unemployment ended, but that hasn’t happened.”

Masanz was referring to the $300 federal unemployment benefit that up until September 4 was available on top of the unemployment benefits provided by the state of Minnesota. Thanks to the federal bump, many people were earning more money being unemployed than employed.

Salon 760 at 760 S. Cleveland Ave. has had to close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays due to a shortage of hair stylists. Owner Jamie Callies opened the salon 10 years ago, and she is hoping to find at least two more stylists. “The neighborhood supports small businesses like ours,” she said. “We’re really blessed. We just need more people.”

Other reasons cited by employers for the labor shortage include ongoing fears of COVID-19 exposure, the seasonal unavailability of high school and college students and an increase in early retirements. The number of Americans over age 55 who are working has declined by 2.5 million or 5 percent since the pandemic began, according to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Brian Ingram, an owner or partner in several local restaurants, including Gnome Craft Pub on Selby Avenue and Hope Breakfast Bar and Woodfired Cantina on West Seventh Street, has offered several new benefits as a way to attract more employees, including flexible hours. Ingram has yet to replace the students he employed over the summer, but as of early October he had not had to reduce operating hours except at his Purple Ice Cream kiosk at Keg and Case Market on West Seventh.

Rusty Taco, which has multiple locations in the Twin Cities, including 508 S. Lexington Pkwy., could use 10 to 15 more full-time and part-time employees, according to manager Natasha Brew. Staffing was not a problem when the restaurants operated with takeout orders only, Brew said, but it has become an issue since the restaurants reopened for indoor dining.

Senior assisted-living facilities, including Episcopal Homes at 1860 University Ave. and Carondelet Village at 525 S. Fairview Ave., are offering hiring bonuses and other incentives for nurses aides and food service staff.

Episcopal Homes also has a day care center and is offering scholarships to employees there who want to continue their education. “We’re figuring out how best to support them,” said spokesperson Cindy Iverson.

National retail chains are also experiencing a shortage of job applicants. Walgreens is looking for pharmacy technicians, beauty consultants and shift leaders. In-store brochures tout the benefits the drug store provides, including paid on-the-job training, flexible scheduling and competitive pay.

Minneapolis-based Target Stores is hoping to hire 100,000 employees nationwide before the holiday shopping season begins. The retail giant is offering permanent positions, flexible scheduling and free tuition for certain undergraduate and associate degree programs.

Advertising on Instagram and Facebook are among the methods Becca Hall has been using to attract new hires at her Ten Thousand Villages store at 520 Selby Ave. She and her two employees are working many more hours than they used to. In the meantime, she has had to reduce store hours and is now closed on Tuesdays.

Melissa Paulson, manager of Paper Source, said applications are just starting to trickle in for openings she has had for some time at the store at 857 Grand Ave. “COVID has put a strain on people coming back to work,” she said.

Salon 760 at 760 S. Cleveland Ave. has had to close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays due to a shortage of hair stylists. Owner Jamie Callies opened the salon 10 years ago, and she is hoping to find at least two more stylists. “The neighborhood supports small businesses like ours,” she said. “We’re really blessed. We just need more people.”

Sweatshop Health Club, 167 N. Snelling Ave., is looking to hire pilates trainers and guest services staff. “It’s really challenging,” said owner Gayle Winegar. “We had three people quit with no notice after two or three months of training. The twenty­something generation has no qualms about quitting without giving notice. They have a lot of choices.”

— Carolyn Walkup

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