Reopening Illinois: As small businesses open their doors, they find a shortage of workers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As small businesses struggle to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, some are running into a new problem when they're cleared to open their doors: They can't find enough people to work.

"I had a line a couple of Saturdays ago, and I'm like, I've never seen this before," said Susan Brandstetter, owner of Fertile in Lakeview.

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As the days grow warmer, so too has the interest in gardening. As a small business like Fertile, a lot of customers is a good problem to have. The challenge has been staffing.

"One of my people was a nurse, so she is staying at the hospital and not coming here," Brandstetter said. "I had another woman who is taking care of her parents. Her father is 88 with congestive heart failure, so she stopped coming in."

Brandstetter is operating with 50% fewer employees and has been cautious to hire quickly to keep current staff and customers safe.

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"I want to make sure I bring someone on who is socially responsible and who is taking the virus seriously," she said.

There are similar stories from other small businesses in the Chicago area, struggling with staffing themselves. Brandstetter's solution is to rely on a network of current and former employees she already knows.

"I have a couple of guys who have children in high school, so I've asked, 'would you like a summer job?'" she said.

In the meantime, Brandstetter is grateful most customers have followed social distancing and are being patient with fewer staffers.
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