- Business owners in beach towns are struggling to hire staff to keep up with summer tourists.
- Fourth of July weekend holiday travel could break pre-pandemic records.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the affordable housing crisis in popular tourist destinations.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Lauren Belvin and her husband run Belvin Built, a design and construction firm based in Point Harbor, NC, a small coastal town across the bridge from the Outer Banks.
The company does everything from flood restoration after hurricanes to designing brand-new homes. Belvin pays her workers anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a day, depending on the project. But this summer, the only consistent employees they could find were two teenagers they discovered power washing their neighbor’s house.
The company’s challenge is one facing many small businesses in beach towns. From the Outer Banks to the Hamptons, a combination of factors has left ‘Help Wanted’ signs on storefront doors up and down the coast.
Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported that the national labor shortage could be due to a mix of four factors: unemployment benefits, COVID-19 health concerns, caring responsibilities, and low wages.
Many seasonal international workers that summer towns depend on were unable to travel to the US due to J-1 visa restrictions. Vacation destinations then face a sixth challenge: the affordable-housing crisis. All these factors are colliding during the busiest travel weekend of the year, as tourists flock to the beach to celebrate Independence Day.
“Before the pandemic it was bad,” said Tom Ruhle, director of the East Hampton Office of Housing and Community Development. “Now it’s dismal.”
Ruhle told Insider that while the Hamptons housing market has been booming, the little affordable housing that was available before the pandemic is almost entirely gone.
The New York Times reported that data collected by Douglas Elliman, a real-estate company, showed that the number of available houses in the Hamptons fell at the fastest rate in over a decade while sales and prices skyrocketed.
“It’s pushing everyone to live further and further away,” Belvin told Insider. “And then rising gas prices coupled with unemployment makes finding skilled labor right now almost impossible.”
Some year-round residents in the Outer Banks have been forced to move out of the rentals as landlords capitalize on the real-estate market.
“I had a friend who lived in Kill Devil Hills for 20 years. Her landlord gave her 30 days to move out in April because he was putting the house on the market,” Belvin told Insider. “Now she’s living in our warehouse apartment.”
Many beach-town restaurants don’t have the staff to remain open at normal hours, and often have to remain closed one to two days a week. With a tourist season only lasting three months out of the year, closing puts a dent in the revenue seasonal businesses depend on to survive through the winter.
Sandbars Raw Bar and Grill, a restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, NC, closed on Friday. Owners Mark and Michelle Shafer posted an emotional video on the company’s Facebook page, citing the labor shortage as the main reason behind the closing.
“There’s not a lot of people looking for jobs out there and it’s become extremely hard,” Mark Shafer said in the video.
Citarella, a popular gourmet market, is offering a $2,500 hiring bonus at its Bridgehampton location with continued employment.
Lynn Jones-Hoates, the owner of Healthy Environments Child Development Center in Kill Devil Hills, told Insider she has a waitlist of families wanting to enroll their kids in childcare so they could go to work- but she doesn’t have enough staff to fully reopen.
“The question becomes what it’s going to look like year-round out here,” Ruhle said. “Depending on the work-from-home scenario, if we get more of a year-round economy, we’re going to have more of a demand for year-round workers, and that’s going to exacerbate certain problems we have. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”