Help Wanted signs are in the windows of many store fronts up and down the streets of Boothbay Harbor – a town where livelihoods depend on a successful summer tourist season. The concern is palpable among some business owners because the traditional opening of the holiday tourist season is Memorial Day. That’s coming up. And that doesn’t leave very much time to hire and train for what some are predicting will be a busy tourist season on the coast of Maine. And all of them that mhn.com spoke with today are opening with skeleton crews – severely understaffed
Robert Bua, who is only the third owner of Down East Ice Cream Factory in its 43 year existence and has 70 outstanding ice cream flavors, said that the “hospitality industry in this town needs more labor. Many businesses are opening up, but with skeleton crews.” He is one of them. In the past four years since he purchased the business, he normally employs 40 young adults. “Come on up to Boothbay Harbor ’cause we could use more help,” Bua said. He opens tomorrow Friday, May 7, 2021 for the season – seven days a week.
Next door at the large restaurant and bar with deck seating that overlooks the Harbor, McSeagulls, on Wharf Street, opened yesterday for the season – with a skeleton crew. Kevin Thomas, General Manager, said he needs kitchen help. That includes cooks, food runners and others to service this large seafood restaurant and pub. “It’s been hard to hire because of the pandemic. It’s hard to compete with expanded unemployment benefits that go into September,” Thomas said. The popular restaurant and bar opened yesterday for the season.
Outside a mature man on a bicycle stopped on the wharf to chat. He said he’s from California and had never been to Maine before. He had easily found a job as a server and pretty much had his pick of jobs he wanted. “The government should stop paying so much in benefits,” he said as he took off on his bike, not disclosing where he would be working for the summer season. “Open up businesses again,” he shouted, as he biked away.
Over on Townsend Avenue, Sheri Manzi, owner of the iconic THE HUTCH, a long-time gift shop, was unpacking huge boxes of new merchandise that need to be priced and shelved in time for the upcoming Memorial Day rush sure to come. It can be hard physical work, That could be a factor why Manzi is finding herself short of summer help so far – despite her Help Wanted sign in the window. “Perhaps they are going to less physically demanding jobs,” she offered. “I really don’t know what the reason for the lack of summer help is. A lot of parents just don’t expect their children to get summer jobs any more. There is a different attitude today from the past,” Manzi said
The well-known gift store occupies two floors – the second floor is where childrens’ gifts and toys are available. “I had to reconfigure the layout of this store. Because of the lack of summer help,I just moved everything from upstairs down to the back of the first floor,” said Manzi. She can’t have anyone going upstairs to a gold mine of children’s treasures that is unattended.
Maybe the lack of seasonal help is because they don’t want to take a chance on being exposed to COVID-19 in what could be mobs of tourists coming from states with higher infected populations. Maybe some are trying to upgrade from dead end jobs to positions with a future during this time of economic shifts. Perhaps people are looking for jobs, but just not in the hospitality industry anymore. There are plenty of downsides to employment in the industry for low-level employees. For some it can be easy to blame the government, especially if you are anti-government and want to see it downsized. Perhaps the lack of an adequate pool of employees wanting to work in the hospitality industry is a combination of all of the above – who knows for sure?
“Every business in the area could use help in all areas,” said Kevin Thomas, General Manager, at McSeagulls. To be continued.