Bob’s Bodacious BBQ employee Jessica Gallegos assists customer. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Laural Hardin of Petree Garden Center and Florist. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
It seems hiring signs can be spotted at many retail businesses and restaurants in town, and that the lack of applicants is making a significant impact.
In a recent press release, Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Director Ryn Herrmann said, “The labor shortage is forcing some of the local restaurants to change their hours and even close some days of the week.”
She noted that Blue Window Bistro closed Aug. 12 and Aug. 13 because of staffing shortages and Pajarito Brewpub and Grill is now closed Mondays and Tuesdays and cannot accommodate catering events. Bob’s Bodacious BBQ had to reduce its hours, too, and Ruby Ks closed for the day Aug. 15. Even McDonalds has been hit; Herrmann said that it is only able to maintain its drive through service.
What Los Alamos is experiencing isn’t unique; workforce shortages are being experienced across the country. However, the issue is complex and cannot be solved just by paying higher wages, Petree Garden Center and Florist General Manager Laural Hardin said.
“It’s not just hey, let’s pay more … there is more to it than that,” she said.
Hardin said she sees a paradigm shift. People are readjusting the way they are willing to work, how they want to work and what they want to do.
“The workforce isn’t disappearing,” she said. “People are choosing to work in different ways or work in different fields that aren’t as difficult.”
Retail can sometimes get a bad rep, Hardin said. People don’t view working in retail as a professional career. Plus, the pandemic has made retail a stressful workplace.
“My staff are exemplary,” Hardin said. “(But) they are put under tremendous pressure from the customers.”
She pointed out something the public might not realize is supply chains are experiencing long delays. For example, Hardin said if she orders ceramics and there is a delay at the Chinese port where the ceramics are being transported that can equate to a three-month delay for getting the ceramics onto Petree’s shelves.
If a customer doesn’t realize this, they get frustrated when items aren’t on the shelves and it’s the employees who get caught in the crosshairs, Hardin said.
“The customer has to be aware that retail workers are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with respect and patience,” she said.
Keeping and retaining staff has always been an issue for Lyle and Gayle Cunningham, owners of Bob’s Bodacious BBQ and Papa Murphy’s.
Needing to fill positions is normal, but Gayle said, “This year it’s normal on steroids.”
Gayle said she feels the socio-economic makeup of Los Alamos impacts businesses’ ability to hire.
This town is a highly educated community, she said, and with the national laboratory being the biggest employer, not a lot of people are looking for a second job and neither are their children.
The employees they do have are very much appreciated, Gayle said.
“I can’t say enough good things about the high school students on the staff…,” she said.
The shortage of help has not affected Papa Murphy’s but Bob’s Bodacious BBQ has had to cut lunch and dinner service by an hour each, Gayle said.
Running a restaurant isn’t just serving food, she pointed out, it also is cooking, cleaning and bookkeeping so the doors stay open.
Gayle said they try to do as much as they can on their own but “we got to protect our staff and our own sanity.”
Lyle said they are “putting together a patchwork quilt” in their efforts to keep the restaurant running every week. He explained that he and Gayle will fill in where help is needed when they can.
“All we can do is survive,” he said.
Similar to the Cunninghams, finding and keeping employees has always been an issue for Pet Pangaea Owner Cyndi Wells.
And Wells pointed out she offers health benefits, a 401K package and paid time off.
She added that many don’t see working in retail as a career.
“The thing about retail is that it can be very rewarding,” Wells said. “We have strong connections to the community – you can really be passionate and help people. There are so many ways a business can grow
Wells also pointed out that a variety of career areas exist in retail, with positions existing in everything from robotics to social media marketing to accounting.
Pinpointing just what exactly is the cause of the hiring issue is tough, she said.
“It’s hard to say, we just don’t have that kind of workforce. When I have discussed my hiring challenges with business owner friends in other areas of the country, I find that we have similar issues to those in resort towns,” Wells said.
Not every business is significantly impacted by hiring shortages.
Finishing Touch Co-Owner Julio Gaytan said while his search for a bookkeeper has been lengthy, his business is fortunate to have many long-time employees.
“We built a really strong, trusting relationship,” he said.
For example, last year, before the Paycheck Protection Program was known, Finishing Touch employees were told that no matter what happened, they would receive a paycheck, Gaytan said.
“We always try to take care of our employees,” he said. “We have a really good relationship and we always support (our employees) … that loyalty goes both ways.”
So, what can be done to address the hiring issue?
Herrmann said a list of businesses that are hiring is being complied and the chamber is talking to the high school and the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos to publicize job openings.
“It’s something I think everyone has noticed … we are just trying to do everything we can to get the word out about folks hiring,” she said.
Several business owners praised Herrmann and the Chamber for its efforts.
Hardin said she felt the Chamber “is doing everything they can do,” adding that if businesses need help, they need to speak up.
Lyle Cunningham added that Herrmann and the Chamber have been great. The community has been supportive, too.
“People are very understanding,” he said.
Gayle Cunningham agreed.
“Shout out to Ryn and the community for their understanding at this point,” she said.
Wells said she thinks education could be key. It might be effective if it was introduced in the schools that students can make a career in retail. She added if Los Alamos County established a school for retail workers, she would teach.
Retail is a complex issue, but everyone seems to agree, community support is essential to make it work.
Hardin pointed out that local shoppers need to do their part and shop locally, if they want retail businesses to be successful.
“They have to put their money where their mouth is,” she said. “They just need to show up and just be patient and we will do the rest.”
Hardin emphasized Petree Garden Center and Florist is grateful for the community and the customers who shop at the business.
“Petree Garden Center and Florist is enormously grateful for the customers that are making an effort to keep us going,” she said.
Wells agreed, saying businesses are here to serve.
“I think all of us appreciate your patience,” she said. “We really appreciate the community, and we are really here to help people.”
A customer at Pet Pangaea during last year’s Small Business Saturday. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Monique Brown of The Finishing Touch in Los Alamos shares a variety of decorating ideas and options for homes and businesses. Photo by Jenn Bartram/ladailypost.com