Northern Nevada’s Service Industry Workers Struggle after Year of Uncertainty

To say the pandemic has affected everyone around the globe in one way or another is an understatement. Bryan Hofmann reports on some of the most impacted here in northern Nevada, workers in the service industry.

“Our owners were amazing, they stopped all of their own paychecks so that we could continue getting payroll, so we did not have to lay anyone off,” said Ian Kirkpatrick, General Manager for Squeeze In, of how different companies handled the initial shutdown differently.

A Brutal Shutdown

Cases of COVID-19 started popping up in the U.S. in March, and after the first few deaths in the country, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve requested the local shutdown of bars, clubs and restaurants, and the next day Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak did the same for the entire state. This plunged tens of thousands of Nevadans out of work, for what was initially promised as a two-week period that quickly turned to a month, and then three.

“Whenever the governor speaks there’s this big delayed effect, that people like freak out and they shutter themselves in,” said Ryan Goldhammer, the owner of Noble Pie Parlor.

So what is the service industry looking like now?

Nearly one year to the day after the decision by the mayor, things started looking up. On March 15th, businesses were allowed to increase capacity from 35% to 50%, bringing things closer and closer to some type of normalcy…but it has been a long, hard struggle.

“It’s not necessarily capacity that are the difficult part, you can adjust to those things, people will adjust to like more pick-up orders and things like that,” said Goldhammer.

This is not even taking into account the constant changes in rules and regulations for restaurants, changing capacity limits from 0 to 50%, then back down to 25 and then 35%.

“When it got knocked back down the challenges were hard there as well because you’re constantly adjusting your staff levels, you’re adjusting the way your shifts work and what the cut times are. Even what your sales trends are, you’re not able to look back at a normal year and do more projections,”said Goldhammer.

“Just from handling call volume to making sure that you’re communicating your messaging to all of your guests in your community from what’s changing, what’s new. And trying to regulate people’s actions and behavior,” Goldhammer said of the challenges faced by Noble Pie Parlor.

Policing their own customers

All the while, restaurant owners had to become babysitters for those maskless few, ensuring that everyone was complying while inside their establishment so they would not get a fine or worse, get shut down again.

“ You always police your guests in some sort of way whether it’s language or people have drunk too much. But policing people for masks, or whenever they’re walking around or what table they go to visit because they saw another friend, that stuff gets to be more difficult,” Goldhammer said.

However, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, Goldhammer said business is starting to pick up again. But he says capacity limits have little to do with that. He believes as more people get vaccinated, and people start feeling safe, the economy will be able to bounce back.

Some shops were able to hold through the rough times until business improved or federal relief funding came through, like Squeeze In in Northwest Reno. “Our owners were amazing, they stopped all of their own paychecks so that we could continue getting payroll, so we did not have to lay anyone off,” said Ian Kirkpatrick, General Manager for Squeeze In.

In the months following the total shutdowns, Kirkpatrick and his staff were able to work some reduced hours, providing take out options and sometimes driving food to customers. But with the news of increased capacity, he has had to bring on more staff, as some of the original staff had to move on. “I just did a new round of hiring, I just hired a total of four more new associates because of moving back to this 50% capacity.”

The next change to capacity for Nevada businesses will come on May 1st, when regulation enforcement will be transferred to local officials and will be dependent on more localized numbers of coronavirus spread within the community.

Reporting by Bryan Hofmann for the Reynolds Sandbox

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Reynolds Sandbox

Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.