Help Wanted: General stores seek labor help

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 6:06 PM EST
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WARREN, Vt. (WCAX) - General stores are an integral part of many small-town communities in Vermont, but the national labor crisis is putting a strain on many hometown stores. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin checked in with the Warren Store to see how they’re handling the shortages.

Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name -- to borrow a phrase...

“Everybody here is wonderful and I look forward to seeing them every time that I come,” said Tanya Worden of Waitsfield. For her and many others in the Mad River Valley, the Warren Store fits the bill. “It’s such an iconic place. Love to be able to come in here and visit. I think it’s very important to our community.”

That’s because this place has a lot of history. It’s been bringing people together since 1839. “It is a meeting place, it is where you are recognized as a local customer. It is for a resort ski town like we are where you go for your provisions, where you get really great food,” said Tracy Kelly, the store’s general manager. But she says the lack of staff makes her concerned about the future. “If we can’t find employees anytime soon, the existing staff will burn out.”

They are open six days a week, but Kelly says if they don’t get more staff, they’ll have to curtail that schedule. “It’s a domino effect. People think we’re closed, they won’t come. And the people that do have jobs here would suffer without that income,” she said.

Kelly started managing the store in September 2020 and says staffing has always been hard. “We raised the wages almost immediately and did some renovations,” she said. “Advertised in the newspaper, on our local Front Porch Forum, had a sign out front, we have done indeed – social media,” she said. “For every couple that we get, we lose a few. It’s been a struggle.”

The pandemic hasn’t helped. They required staff to be vaccinated last fall. “That was an issue for some people,” Kelly said.

She says others are scared to work with the public in a pandemic. “Hopefully, people watching this show will realize how desperate we are for help... I’m out of ideas.”

The store has a variety of available positions, from cashiers to baristas to the deli. “I wouldn’t say this is a super-challenging job, but it’s challenging enough to keep things interesting,” said Alex Clifford, who has been making sandwiches in the deli for about four years. “It’s opened up a world to me that I sort of didn’t know before.”

Clifford used to work at a ski shop but there wasn’t a lot for him to do in the summer. Then, he discovered his love of working with food. “The satisfaction of putting out something that I’m proud of,” he said. “It can get busy -- maintaining your cool, your composure.”

Kelly says part-time employees make roughly $16 an hour, and full-time positions pay $18 an hour, plus an employee discount, lunches, and health benefits.

Clifford has some advice for anyone looking to change jobs. “Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” he said.

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