Staffing Shortages Lead to Decreased Hours of Operation for Hamilton Businesses

Rachel Sita, Staff Writer

The staffing shortages and financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have led Hamilton businesses, such as Hamilton Eatery and Rye Berry, to limit their hours of operation.

Nicki Skinner, co-owner of the Hamilton Eatery, commented on how the deciding factor in shortening business hours was the staffing shortage they first encountered early on in the pandemic. 

“At the beginning of the whole [COVID-19] shutdown, which was in March of 2020, we closed like everything else did,” Skinner said. “And we ended up staying closed for four months because when the students aren’t here there just isn’t enough business really to support being open. When we did reopen, we lost some people who moved out of the area, there were people who needed to stay home with their kids. So all of a sudden we were dealing with a skeleton crew.”

However, these staffing shortages still persist today.

“Originally we started out deciding to close on Sundays, which was a little bit of a way to keep us all happy, being able to take a day-off every week,” Skinner said. “Then we realized that we just didn’t have enough staff to cover two shifts every day, and so we still at this point don’t have enough employees to be open on the night-time shifts we had Monday through Thursday.”

Rye Berry, a local cafe, coffee and pastry shop located on Lebanon Street, encountered similar staffing issues, as their website states. 

Senior Elisabeth Pezzutto explained that the staffing shortage is having a significant impact on the cafe’s hours of operation, and thereby limiting the number of hours she can work every month. The shortage has also forced Rye Berry to limit their food menu options to the classic avocado toast and their yogurt, which they make and ferment in-house.

Due to a staff shortage, Rye Berry must limit their menu to compensate for limited work,” Pezzuto said. “It’s unfortunate, but they are looking to hire people in the kitchen. Once they do that, it will be easier to meet food demand. That means that students also have less opportunity to work at the front-of-house, but they’re working to get things back to normal.”

Due to the limited hours of operation and the subsequent modifications that have been made to the menu, Pezzutto will only be working every other Saturday at the Rye Berry this spring, as opposed to working every weekend, as she did last semester. 

Skinner remarks that with such limited staff, the possibility of crucial employees testing positive for COVID-19 is detrimental to the business’s operation status. 

“With [COVID-19] it’s tricky because if at any moment we were to have two or three people, key people, suddenly be out, we’d have to close,” Skinner said.

The limited hours of these businesses also present an issue of limited access for consumers. Sophomore Ellie Markwick commented on her experience as both a customer and a Colgate underclassman regarding this issue.  

“I think it’s tough for students up the hill because underclassmen like me aren’t really able to access town throughout the day, and so the evening and weekends are actually the only times I am able to go to town,” Markwick said. 

Staffing shortages and financial constraints have additionally affected these businesses’ ability to provide consumers with the full scope of their products and services. 

The Rye Berry website states, “Due to current staff shortages, we are temporarily not offering our regular Kitchen menu or new Bread Delivery Subscriptions at this time.” 

Similarly, Skinner commented that Hamilton Eatery is currently unable to provide particular menu items because of the inflation and supply chain issues that occurred during and as a result of the pandemic. 

“All of a sudden there might be a product that we’ve had all these years and then our purveyors tell us we can’t get that product anymore,” Skinner said. “It causes us just to be a little more flexible in what we serve, like we don’t have beef burgers anymore, we have turkey burgers because the price of beef just shot up through the roof and they didn’t have the product that we wanted.”

Despite the current difficulties these small businesses face, the owners have plans towards their businesses’ eventual, full re-opening.

“Our plan is to, as soon as we can, start adding in a night shift one at a time,” Skinner said. “Maybe in the next couple weeks we’ll be able to be open on Thursday night and then a couple weeks after that we’ll be able to add Wednesday and we’ll just try to go in that direction.”

 The current hours of operation for Hamilton Eatery are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday; 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Friday – Saturday. The hours for Rye Berry are 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Thursday – Sunday.