Local businesses shut down due to staffing shortages | News

MADISON (WKOW) — Staffing shortages across Wisconsin aren’t new. Businesses, both small and large, are struggling to find enough workers, leading them to shut down.

The Heights Kitchen in Madison opened nearly four years ago. But once the pandemic hit, owner Evan Gruzis said it became more difficult to keep the doors open.

“We were really young before COVID. So we were still getting our feet under us. And then when the Coronavirus happened, we totally switched our business model to take out dinners and then totally switched back to dine in afterwards. So it’s been a wild ride over the last couple of years,” Gruzis said.

But, his businesses are not the only ones facing this issue.

“Every other business owner I talked to is having staffing issues right now. That means they’re either dialing back their services, or scaling things to the amount of people that they have to work,” he said. “When we were looking for staff, I was calling around and everyone else was looking for staff too. So I know I’m not the only one.”

Gruzis said The Heights instituted auto gratuity to raise the wages of all employees, and did what they could for their staff. But, it came down to not having enough of them.

Zach Brandon, President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said there is a lot of opportunity for talent to find great work in Madison.

“There may be some trends here that will continue to push people into the workforce. But that won’t be without higher costs,” Brandon said.

He said businesses were either forced to close or chose to close because of the pandemic. This led to layoffs, retirements and reflection.

“We saw a lot of early retirements in the beginning of the pandemic. So people ages 55 to 64. Their 401k’s were intact, their credit card debt was being paid off, because they weren’t traveling or making major purchases. They were still largely financially sound,” Brandon said.

He adds that the pandemic caused a moment of reflection for some, “what is the meaning of life and why are we working? What are we doing?”

For Evan Gruzis, closing was a hard decision, but he said it’s the best choice for the future.

“It wasn’t until this spring that we had a number of staffing issues. We had to cancel our dinners in late April and couldn’t bring them back in time for the summer. We were depending on that. So it was the make or break summer for us. And unfortunately, it’s break,” he said.

But, this isn’t the complete end for The Heights. Gruzis said there are some plans to rent out the space for events — and grow the restaurant’s wine club with pickup parties and tastings.

Tips to ease the struggle for local, small businesses:

Zach Brandon shares ways in which the public can help these businesses keep their doors open.

  1. Think Local: “focus on spending the dollar when possible locally, that will help drive business to the smaller businesses, it will help give some stability to the scheduling, so employees know that they’re going to get consistent hours, and therefore more likely, it will help pay for the reservation wage.”
  2. Be Empathetic: “servers, bartenders, customer care, customer relations professionals may all be working short staffed and likely are working short staffed. So have a little bit of empathy for them.”
  3. Pay More: “if you go to your favorite store, or your favorite restaurant, and you see that there’s an increase, understand that that’s because they’re trying to keep the doors open, because they want to remain that place where you can go .”

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