As the labor shortage continues, some local businesses are reducing or switching up services

Companies are getting creative about how they operate without a full staff

A “help wanted” sign is posted outside the Silverheels Bar and Grill and Kemosabe Sushi restaurants Feb. 13 in Frisco. As Summit County heads into the summer tourism season, businesses are still struggling to fully staff.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

A year ago, businesses across Summit County were struggling under repressive public health restrictions. Now, there’s a new issue at hand and one that likely won’t be fixed overnight: Due to limited workforce housing and job shortages during the pandemic, many residents have moved out of the county, causing a severe labor shortage.

This labor shortage is so dire that many owners of local businesses are coming up with creative ways to deliver their services without having a full staff.

One such example is Mountain Lyon Cafe’s new business model: Instead of seating people at a table and waiting on customers individually, the Silverthorne cafe now operates differently. When customers arrive at the restaurant, they place their orders at a counter and pay for their food and drinks before finding a seat. Roughly 10-15 minutes later, customers are served their food.

Co-owner Rob Lyon said this method was introduced about 10 months ago as a way to limit points of contact due to the pandemic and also to cope with staffing shortages. Lyon said the new model requires only about six staffers whereas the traditional restaurant experience requires eight to nine.

Before the pandemic, Lyon said the cafe employed 23 people. At one point, he and his wife were the only employees, and the two served food and drinks through their food truck. Today, the company employs 13 people, and Lyon said he’d need to hire at least four more to return to normal operations.

“I put an ad on the radio, and we’ve had ‘help wanted’ signs up in the cafe for about two, maybe three, weeks, and we … got two people who applied,” Lyon said. “I happened to get a couple of new high school kids … and those are the only two people we’ve hired in the last two months, and we need more to (go back to) full service in the restaurant because we want to go back to waiting tables, but the only way we can do that is to have about six more people.”

And it’s not just restaurants experiencing the issue. First Bank has three locations in the county — Frisco, Breckenridge and Silverthorne — and Market President Nick Brinkman said the company has struggled with staffing so much that in its Frisco location, , they’ve decided to close the lobby, do most services through the drive-thru and offer appointments. The move will take effect Monday, June 14.

“All three are impacted by the current labor shortage, and our decision to convert Frisco to drive-up only is based on the fact that it’s our most central location,” Brinkman said. “We do not have a drive-up in Breckenridge, so in order to be able to best serve our customers at all three locations, we wanted to be able to utilize our drive-up location and limit our lobby traffic.”

Between the three locations, Brinkman said the company’s staffing is down 10% to 15%. The move allows the bank to shuffle some Frisco employees to other locations to better serve customers. Brinkman said if the bank was able to staff up, it would revert back to its typical operations.

“If we could hire two to three people, we’d be able to instantly reopen our lobby. So we do not have a set end date on that, but our goal is to return to our normal hours and open the lobby as soon as possible,” Brinkman said.

While both Mountain Lyon Cafe and First Bank had the opportunity to come up with creative solutions, other organizations, like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, had to close some of its operations completely.

“We have recently needed to close down our thrift store in order to reroute the two employees that we have left in order to move them to the food pantry to keep the food pantry open,” Executive Director Brianne Snow said. “It’s this giant game of trying to prioritize what is needed by the community the most. And unfortunately, I feel like all of the services we provide the community needs, so it’s really difficult to make some of these decisions.”

Snow said the resource center lost some staff during the pandemic and that it’s struggling to refill those positions.

“Working in our thrift store, and the food pantry in particular, has been a really difficult and tiring job,” Snow said. “You hear a lot of stories and people really just struggled throughout the pandemic, so I think our employees were just truly exhausted, and they moved on to different jobs after the height of the pandemic ended.”

Snow said the resource center had a labor shortage in both its thrift store and its food pantry. And when only two employees were staffing the store, Snow said the team made “the really difficult decision” to close it down and use those employees in the food pantry so as not to disrupt those operations.

The resource center previously had two thrift store locations, one in Breckenridge and one in Dillon. During the pandemic, the center lost so many employees that it closed its Breckenridge location and operated its Dillon location on reduced hours. Now neither are open.

Snow said in order for one thrift store location to reopen, the center would need to fill about six positions. In the meantime, the food pantry also needs workers, as the need for its service has increased significantly.

Before the pandemic, Snow said a busy day at the food pantry would be about 20 families. Now it’s not uncommon to see 70 to 80 families. While the resource center currently has enough employees to staff the pantry, which is open to anyone in the community, Snow said she’s worried about the remaining staffers, especially the ones who live outside the county.

“Some of our employees have had to leave the county, and they now live in surrounding counties,” Snow said. “Kremmling is a great example. They are struggling to afford the gas prices to come in to work those shifts. Even though we pay a livable wage, and we have really great benefits and paid time off and all kinds of other perks, they’re just really struggling to decide whether it is worth it for them financially to drive into Summit County daily.”

Lyon, Snow and Brinkman all attribute their staffing difficulties to the current workforce housing shortage. The Summit Board of County Commissioners has previously considered formally declaring the issue an emergency and is meeting Tuesday, June 15, to discuss next steps.

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