2017-09-14 / Life in Leelanau

Fall Reinforcements

Leelanau County businesses turn to grownups, retirees as kids head to school
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


GROWNUPS HAVE replaced high school and college-aged employees at many jobs around Leelanau County with the start of the school year. Retired educator Patti Yauck, who works part-time at the Suttons Bay Marina, is now working three times as many hours per week than she was before the summer help went back to school. GROWNUPS HAVE replaced high school and college-aged employees at many jobs around Leelanau County with the start of the school year. Retired educator Patti Yauck, who works part-time at the Suttons Bay Marina, is now working three times as many hours per week than she was before the summer help went back to school. With school back in session, local employers are lamenting the loss of a large part of the labor force that powers Leelanau County’s seasonal economy.

In some cases, year-round managers, older adults and retirees are picking up the slack. Grownups employed at local businesses are now working harder than they were earlier this month — before Labor Day weekend changed everything.

“The kids are sorely missed this time of year,” said Ken Schwaiger, manager of The Totem Shop in Glen Arbor. “We start losing them as soon as sports practice begins in August and, after Labor Day, we’re scrambling for bodies just to stay open.”

Schwaiger said that in some years, he’s hired young people who were seasonal residents of Leelanau County, visiting the area for the summer from their downstate homes.

“More recently, we’ve been hiring local kids from Glen Lake schools, but it’s the same story,” Schwaiger said. “They’re all great kids. I just wish we could keep them longer.”

The Totem Shop is not the only Glen Arbor-area business looking for help now that a lot of the seasonal employees have returned to high school or college.

One of Leelanau County’s and, certainly, Glen Arbor’s biggest employers, Cherry Republic, is struggling to find employees.

Cherry Republic placed a “help wanted” display ad in last week’s Leelanau Enterprise just before the newspaper’s final deadline when the company’s human resources needs became painfully apparent after the Labor Day holiday.

Indeed, the “back-to-school” dearth of employees is affecting businesses all over the county. One of the major employers in Northport, Tom’s Market, is also struggling to fill gaps created by the departure of so many high school and college-age workers.

“We had 27 people on our payroll through the summer and suddenly we have 17,” said Tom’s market director, Kristine Niemi.

At least three cashiers, six stockers and a few baggers have headed back to school, she said. The result is that the remaining employees are swapping more shifts, adding shifts, and just generally working harder.

“It’s difficult when you lose fulltime people after the summer,” Niemi said. “We keep a few part-time people, mostly local students, through the school year, but their hours are cut way back.”

Down in Suttons Bay, the proprietor of the Suttons Bay Trading Company and local chamber of commerce president, Karen Pontius, noted that the same problem hits employers throughout the region.

“Business definitely slows down after Labor Day, so the need for all those employees goes down as well,” Pontius pointed out. “And the flip side of losing all those kids is that older employees and year-round people have more opportunity to make some money — by picking up extra shifts and even getting overtime.”

In addition, local business groups are doing a better job of marketing the “shoulder seasons,” in Leelanau County, bringing in more customers for fall color tours as well as food and wine events.

Increasingly, some businesses in Leelanau County have taken to hiring retirees whose schedules are not driven by school, who tend to be more stable, and who tend to stick around after Labor Day if not all winter.

“Thank God for our retirees,” said Suttons Bay Harbormaster Edie Aylsworth.

A few weeks ago, Aylsworth had a half-dozen kids working as marina attendants. Now, it’s just her and two of her most experienced and trusted employees.

One of those Suttons Bay Marina employees lives right across the bay on the Stony Point peninsula. Patti Yauck is a retired public school principal who worked in Benzie County for many years.

“I was working about eight hours per week here at the marina when all the kids were here,” Yauck said. “Now, I’m back to around 25 hours per week — just like I was last spring before the school year ended.”

Leland Harbormaster Russ Dzuba said his staff of marina attendants dropped from 10 people this summer, mostly local high school kids and college students, to just three people last week.

“We actually start losing them beginning around the second or third week of August — it seems to get earlier each year,” Dzuba said. “Rain and cool weather have slowed things down a little more than usual now that we’re nearing the end of the season — but we’re still missing our kids.”

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