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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Middlebury businesses continue to face acute understaffing

The town of Middlebury is no exception to the nationwide service sector labor shortage, and the widespread lack of workers has meant changes to the operations of popular restaurants in town. Local staples including Noonie’s Deli and Middlebury Bagel & Deli have been forced to alter operations or cut hours. Other changes at Middlebury’s restaurants include fewer menu offerings, increased wait times and a shift toward takeout only at certain establishments.

The desperation for staff is visible in town: Hannaford has posted hiring signs up and down the milk aisle, and Mr. Up’s posted signage looking for cooks, waitstaff and dishwashers with “help wanted” followed by nine exclamation points.

In order to accommodate demand — especially with the reopening of dine-in services — Otter Creek Bakery is open for one to two hours fewer per day and only five days a week. In an interview with The Campus, Renee Leone, an employee at Otter Creek, expressed that even with the tighter hours, members of the staff have been working double or extended shifts to compensate for the lack of staff. 

“We’re really trying to hire a lot of people,” Leone said. “We’re not looking to expand [hours] anytime soon until the labor shortage settles down.”

The Arcadian — which shares a dining room with Haymaker Bun Co. —  closed its doors indefinitely on Saturday, Sept. 18. The owners shared on the restaurant’s Instagram that “the staffing crisis that has gripped our industry on every level was ultimately an insurmountable challenge to our operational goals.”

Franchises in Middlebury have also been affected. The town’s Dunkin’ location has had to close early or limit their on-the-go service some days. 

In addition to forcing operational changes, the challenges posed by the labor shortage have taken a mental and emotional toll on employees. Maranda Aunchman, a shift leader at the local Dunkin', described the strain of the staff shortage.

“It’s really stressful not having people in or people quitting,” Aunchman said. “It’s affecting everybody.”

Middlebury Bagel & Deli has been busier than ever before, but struggling to fill positions has presented the business with an unprecedented challenge. In the past, the owners seldom needed to advertise when looking to hire new employees, and now, they are turning to Facebook, advertising in the storefront and relying on word of mouth in the small town community.

“Mentally, it’s hard, and obviously not having the right amount of people for certain days . . . it’s affected us. It’s affected all of them,” Justin Rubright, an owner of Middlebury Bagel & Deli, said. “It’s good to have the two days off that we have because we have the strongest crew that we could have here every other day the five days that we’re open.”

According to the Addison Independent, the owners of Noonie’s Deli have received a number of applications in the past year, but out of those applicants, only a few have shown up to undergo the interview process.

Now, with many employees from the summer returning to high school or college, hiring efforts have strengthened. Some local businesses hope that Middlebury College students will be able to pad the local workforce. Last Monday, the college — in collaboration with the Better Middlebury Partnership — put on a job fair advertising positions in town. But the college faces its own critical labor shortages, with dining halls and facilities experiencing perhaps the most perceptible effects of understaffing.

In an interview for Business Insider, economist Dante DeAntionio said that the labor shortage across the U.S. is likely to persist. 

“The labor shortages will start to abate in September and this fall, but it’s not going to be an immediate fix,” DeAntonio said. “This could well play out over two, three years.”

Economists largely attribute the labor shortage to a mismatch between the roles offered by employers and potential employees looking to fill those roles. In some businesses across the U.S., employers are not willing or able to offer the wage that workers are demanding, or the employers might be eliminating applicants through automatic screening software, such as resume screeners that reject potential employees based on the inclusion of certain words on their resumes. 

In addition, cases are still on the rise throughout the country, including Vermont, which could deter people from returning to jobs that put them at risk for Covid-19. Cases have been on the rise in Vermont since Labor Day Weekend, with 82 new cases reported on the state’s Covid-19 dashboard on Sept. 28. Childcare also continues to be an issue for many, as parents are either unwilling to send their children to childcare centers or centers remain closed. 

While it is unclear exactly what is causing the labor shortage in Middlebury, national trends indicate that it could be a problem that persists for years to come.