Bend readies for summer boom as pandemic loosens its grip

·2 min read

Staffing shortages and construction aren’t stopping businesses in this beach town from enjoying what they believe will be a busy, restriction-free season.

“There’s going to be a lot more people around,” said Anne Seegmiller, manager of Kazwear Swimwear, located along the main strip in the Lake Huron community of 3,000. “Everybody will be allowed in the store. You can have as many people in as you want,” she said.

“Everybody’s so much happier and relaxed, and everybody’s ready to be out.”

The pandemic dealt beach towns a heavy financial blow with on-and-off shutdowns during the last two years. But with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, many near the sandy shores say this year’s tourist season is looking up.

“Last year, we didn’t start until June. Everyone still had to wear a mask, but even with that, we still had a good season,” said Pamela Graham, manager of Crossroads Clothing store.

“Hopefully this year, with absolutely no restrictions, and now that Americans can come back, it’ll be even better.”

But the fresh start hasn’t come without its challenges, with many businesses on the main strip struggling to find workers amid an ongoing labour shortage worsened by the pandemic.

For Graham, that meant working nine-hour shifts on her own. “Last year, there were zero resumes. I was working 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. My boss would come once a week.” Other than that, she said, “I barely had time to sit down.”

This year, Graham’s hired two more employees but said she’s looking to get more.

It’s a similar story at the Growling Gator, where the restaurant’s kitchen has been understaffed for three years.

“In the front of the house, it’s no problem,” co-owner Sam Karamoutzos said. “We have a problem at the back of the house, the kitchen. We need more people to work,” he said, adding the shortage is “getting worse every year.”

Despite the challenge, Karamoutzos said employees have been busy in recent weeks and are prepared for what he believes will be an eventful Victoria Day long weekend, even if the weather doesn’t co-operate.

“People are here no matter what,” he said. “Everybody’s been waiting for the long weekend. It’s the first of the spring. After a long winter, everybody wants to get out.”

Commuters heading to Grand Bend on the long weekend may face some delays, as a long stretch of Highway 21, including at the main beach intersection at Highway 81, remains under construction.

cleon@postmedia.com

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Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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