Stop & Shop says it would like to hire 100 new part-time employees for its Edgartown and Vineyard Haven stores.
Other Island business owners are saying — good luck with that.
In a press release, the supermarket giant said it needs about 500 year-round and seasonal employees on the Cape and Islands. Stop & Shop is offering up to $17 per hour, and has housing available on the Vineyard for employees 18 and older.
Maria Fruci, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said the need for more employees can be directly tied to a shortage of foreign workers. “We typically hire associates during the summer high season, however, there is a greater need this year due to the lack of seasonal workers on visas,” she wrote in an email.
Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s, said there are no bodies on the Island to fill those jobs. If there were, he’d hire them to help his exhausted staff members, who are working as many as 60 hours a week.
“We have customers,” he told The Times. “We need workers and product.”
Bernier said the struggle to get merchandise continues. “I haven’t had one case of Bounty paper towels in a week,” he said.
There are enough people on the Island that it would make sense to open the up-Island Cronig’s, which has been shuttered for four months since the pandemic arrived in the U.S., but Bernier doesn’t have the workers or the product to open it. So it remains closed as Bernier concentrates on the Vineyard Haven store and tries to keep his employees’ spirits up.
Cronig’s continues to remain closed on Sundays to give employees a chance to catch their breath.
Stop & Shop might have to reduce hours because there just aren’t enough workers on the Island, Bernier predicted.
Typically, Bernier would have up to 16 workers on either J-1 or H-2B visas working in his stores. This year he has one.
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, said it’s always been the case that the Island has more jobs than it has bodies, but it’s exacerbated by COVID-19 and the limits on bringing in foreign workers. “Historically speaking, Martha’s Vineyard has thousands more jobs than we have workforce to cover [them],” she said. “We do bring people from off-Island, either J-1 or H-2B visa workers — that’s absolutely a direct impact.”
There are also fewer families coming to the Island to vacation and bringing their children looking for summer work. “In the 14 years I’ve lived on-Island, we’ve never had a shortage of jobs,” she said. “Anyone who wants to work can work.”
Staffing has also been an issue at the Harbor View Hotel. Owner Bernard Chiu said the hotel has been closely following the state’s guidelines.
“The staffing is a problem,” Chiu told The Times. “We have had quite a few people not report to work for various reasons beyond our control.”
Along with no J-1 visa workers, Chiu said, it’s been difficult even hiring locally. Given the situation, however, Chiu said they’ve gotten some workers from Boston, which has helped “tremendously,” and visitors from around New England have kept business moving.
“It is a very difficult time,” he said.
This year, businesses haven’t had a choice of workers, and they’re just looking to hold on to the ones they have by avoiding illness.
“We have no one walking through the door looking for jobs,” Bernier said. Recently, he attempted to hire a man whose girlfriend works at the store. “He had five or six jobs to choose from. He took the cushiest job,” Bernier said.
Bernier said he really feels for restaurant owners. They’ve made it to the summer season, but how do they make it past September and beyond? “How many restaurants will be open after Labor Day with a few tables and the bar closed?” he said. “They’re making a gallant effort right now.”
Doug Abdelnour, who owns Nancy’s Restaurant and co-owns Noman’s in Oak Bluffs, said even with less seating and a smaller capacity he’s never had a harder time finding staff.
“This is like adding insult to injury,” Abdelnour said. “You see on the news that it’s the highest amount of unemployed people that the country has ever seen and then at the same time you can’t find anybody that wants to work at all.”
Abdelnour also agreed that cancelling the J-1 or H-2B visas has been “devastating” to just about every business he’s talked to. Workers on either visa make up about 20 percent of his staffing at Nancy’s and Noman’s.
“I hope that the combination of there being so many unemployed people and no H-2B visas and J-1 visas that this should solidify the future of that program because every business I’ve talked to can’t find anybody to do the busing, running, dishwashing, all the support staff positions,” he said.
J.B. Blau has decided to keep one of his restaurants closed, even during the summer. M.V. Chowder Co. thrives off the vibe created by the restaurant’s large bar. Without that and only a few tables, it just isn’t worth it, Blau said.
Meanwhile, he’s having a difficult time hiring staff, too. He’s already decided not to sponsor any J-1s this season, but finding others to work has proved difficult, too.
“You take away whatever the number is, 3,000 to 5,000 people, from the workforce. You’re going to have trouble,” Blau said.
Over the holiday weekend, he put out an urgent plea for dishwashers at one of his restaurants on his Facebook page. It probably won’t be the last time he needs help urgently.
“The number of people looking for work has greatly diminished. We’re doing the best we can,” Blau said. “We have a 16-year-old high school girl working in one place. We used to not hire anyone under 18.”
That’s why even though dine-in is allowed in limited capacity, Blau has decided to concentrate on curbside pickup and outdoor dining.
With fewer employees, there are bound to be delays in service. Business owners are asking visitors to pack their patience along with their sunscreen and face masks.
Reporter Brian Dowd contributed to this report.