Labor Day Blues

Fall isn’t only a time of transition for Door County’s landscape. A lot of Door County’s seasonal workers – be they high school students, college students, retirees, or foreigners – will be leaving their summer jobs come September as schools start back up and colder weather begins to set in.

Hide Side Corner Store in Fish Creek is looking for two full-time employees, and owner Michael Surges will try to share workers with his wife’s Hide Side Boutique to overcome shortages, he might need to reduce hours. Photo by Katie Sikora.

But businesses that rely on those workers will still be open through the fall, and they need workers.

Judy Surges, owner of the Hide Side Boutique clothing store in Fish Creek, depends on a lot of retired, second-home owners and other seasonal workers to staff her store during the summer.

She says the problem of replacing those workers come fall is a normal one, but filling this year’s open positions has been more difficult than she expected.

“It’s a little worse than normal, a little more severe,” she says.

Surges says that, if a wealth of qualified candidates walked through the door, she’d hire two part-time workers or one full-time worker. Her husband, Michael, who runs the Hide Side Corner Store, says he’s in need of two full-time workers and could possibly hire on one additional part-timer.

Surges has been advertising more extensively than usual, placing help wanted ads in both Door County and Green Bay publications as well as online but says she hasn’t received much in the way of response.

“I had two inquiries from the internet, one from a gal in Illinois and one from a fella in Florida,” she says.

Judy Surges, owner of Hide Side Boutique, said it was harder than usual to find workers this spring and she’s already looking at her staffing for next year. Photo by Katie Sikora.

Both Hide Side stores will be switching to reduced hours after Labor Day, and Judy says she and Michael will be sharing workers to cover the gaps in their schedules. But she also says they’d stay open longer if they had the manpower.

“In fall, people can’t go to the beach or do much outside, so all they can do is shop,” says Judy. “A lot of people think business falls off after Labor Day, but that’s not true.”

At the Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay, which is staffed mostly by foreign workers during the summer, manager Jay Kita’s remaining workers will be pulling some overtime shifts unless he can fill the store’s open slots.

“I’d say that by the 15th of September, 80 percent of our help is gone,” says Kita. “The new thing for our foreign workers is they have to be back by the time universities open. Usually we have kids that stay until at least after Columbus Day.”

Kita says the Piggly Wiggly needs people to work at pretty much every position, and while he’s been running ads and receiving applications, it’s taking longer than normal to find people to hire.

“We’re very busy, and it’s hard to find enough people that want to work around here,” he says.

Lucille Kirkegaard, owner of the Yum Yum Tree ice cream store in Baileys Harbor, says fall is always a particularly difficult time of year to look for workers.

“I know that at this time of year everyone who wants a job already has one,” she says, “but I put the sign out anyways.”

Kirkegaard hasn’t advertised outside of the ‘Help Wanted’ sign she’s placed in her store window, but still, she says she’s received zero inquiries in the three weeks the sign has been up.

The Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay will lose 80 percent of its workforce by September 15. Manager Jay Kita says that while he’s been running ads, it’s taking longer than usual to find help. Photo by Katie Sikora.

She has a comfortable amount of people to fill her fall hours, but she’d like to hire on one more person just in case.

“When things are light, I sometimes call the high schools and have them put up a notice,” says Lucille. “I could do that again.”

Kirkegaard says that, as a store owner, she’s slightly put out when workers leave, but as a person she understands they have financial needs to fulfill and lives to get back to.

“Some would stay if it was a full-time, year-round job, but they need money and so they move on,” she says. “University students start the year having fun doing these kinds of jobs, but by the end of summer they’re thinking, ‘I’ll go back to school gladly.’”

Kirkegaard, Kita, and Surges all agree that finding fall workers is a problem that’s not likely to go away any time soon, and they’re also already thinking about next year.

“It was even harder than normal this spring to come up with applicants,” says Surges. “I’m already interviewing people for next year.”

Door County Employment Figures, 2012-2013:

5.8% – total unemployment rate for Door County

5.7% – total unemployment rate for Wisconsin

16.8% – unemployment rate for Hispanic males in Door County

0.0% – unemployment rate for Hispanic females in Door County

12.9% – proportion of crafts workers in Door, Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties labor industries in 2000

30,001 – number of workers in Door County

734 – number of people employed with a disability, ages 16 to 64

Sources:  U.S. Bureau of Census, Department of Administration – Demographic Services Center, Department of Workforce Development – Bureau of Labor Market Information and Office of Economic Advisors