‘Help wanted’ signs abound in Adirondack communities
By Jamie Organski
As summer marches on, one would be hard-pressed to find a retail shop, restaurant, bar or other establishment that isn’t desperate for additional workers to help businesses bounce back following a period of COVID-related closures and restrictions.
Although this issue is one that spans across the country, tourist areas seem to be hit especially hard. In Old Forge and Inlet, for example, businesses largely rely on seasonal, visitor-based income to power them through the leaner months.
This summer, many business owners are faced with a double-whammy: having to make do with shortened hours of operation and limited staff as they strive to accommodate a high number of visitors, with July 4th-sized crowds filling the streets of downtown Old Forge and Inlet on a random Tuesday afternoon.
To address the problem, many local businesses have offered incentives such as higher wages, including up to $17 an hour for sales clerks at Ace Hardware, and up to $20 an hour for kitchen help at the Front Door Diner.
Enchanted Forest Water Safari has offered incentives including free housing, end of season bonuses, and other perks to attract workers. Water park management has offered current team members $100 for every person they recruit that gets hired and works through the summer, according to Vice President & Director of Marketing Katie Wojdyla. Free housing has been offered to employees over the age of 18 who reside out of town, and end-of-the-season bonuses have been promised for reservationists, housekeepers and lifeguards, as those positions are typically difficult to fill.
Although these strategies have worked to increase the workforce, water park management is still hiring until the end of the summer. Staff has succeeded in keeping the waiting time for lines low, and Wojdyla was pleased to report that staff has been able to keep all rides open this season barring a few temporary closures.
Shortage of visa workers
For Enchanted Forest and other seasonal businesses, one of the greatest challenges has been the drastic 40 to 50-percent decrease in visa workers over previous years. While the reason for the shortage of visa workers varies due to different regulations in different countries, Wojdyla said some countries’ embassies were not open or did not allow visas.
The lack of visa workers has proven to be an issue for many local businesses, including the Screamen Eagle and the Double Eagle Bar and Grill in Inlet. Amanda Miller, who runs both businesses alongside her husband, said prior to the start of summer, they were promised four visa workers, which was lessened to two even after they had received an official arrival date and time, leaving them short staffed going into the summer months.
“At Screamen we can’t open at noon like we always have in the past and we have to close one day a week,” Miller said. “The money we lose being open three hours less per day is substantial, but we can’t ask our employees to work that many hours and we don’t have enough staff to rotate people. It’s the same key staff six days a week.”
Miller juggles her position at the Old Forge Post Office on top of running the two local restaurants, adding that the already exhausting summer will prove even more stressful when staff returns to college.
“I will lose half my staff at Double Eagle and about a third of my staff at Screamen Eagle. We will have to modify our hours again and be open even less.”– Amanda Miller, business owner, on relying on college student workers
Many local businesses, including The Toboggan Inn of Eagle Bay, and Calypso’s Cove in Old Forge have also had to cut their hours of operation this summer due to a lack of available staff. Wojdyla said Enchanted Forest, which owns Calypso’s Cove, has not been able to open it to full capacity, and have instead opted for a schedule of Saturdays and Sundays for mini golf and the arcade, and go karts from 6:30 to 10 p.m. after the water park has closed.
John Nemjo, owner of local businesses Life is Good and Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, said he has had a record year, and is lucky to have a dedicated crew of employees who are the heart and soul of his businesses. However, he has been desperate for additional help to not only serve patrons, but to give current staff a much needed reprieve.
“Part of the issue is things have changed, young people have no work ethic. I was a paperboy at age 11. Where are the college kids who come here for summer jobs? Some people are content sitting at home, collecting enough unemployment to live on and don’t want to go back to a 40-hour work week,” he said.
Nemjo has enlisted the services of staff in Saratoga to assist his Life is Good manager in Old Forge this summer, and there are no kayak rentals on the Moose River again this year due to lack of staffing at Mountainman.
“Nobody has enough help and employees are being pushed to their limits. I have raised the starting pay and it hasn’t helped.”– John Nemjo, owner of Life is Good and Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co.
He also points to the complicated nature of the problem, and how it’s tied in with other issues such as a lack of affordable housing. Should local businesses be blessed with a flurry of able-bodied, willing employees, where would these people live, Nemjo asked.
“Unless the town actively addresses the affordable housing issue in a hurry, and [sets regulations] for short-term rentals, we won’t have a school or community. The unemployment checks will stop, but the affordable housing issue is not going away, and has only exacerbated the worker shortage issue.”