Family market in Ashtabula struggles with ongoing stress of being an essential business
Essential workers. Essential industries. We’ve heard those terms used a lot in the past 18 months. How is one family business continuing to manage the impact of the pandemic?
For 35 years, the Andover Sparkle Market, located in Ashtabula County, has served the residents of Andover and its thousands of seasonal tourists.
Kathy Sylvester, one of the second-generation family members who owns and operates the Andover Sparkle Market said, “No one asked us if we wanted to be essential workers. All of a sudden, we were essential workers with no help from anybody.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created a year like no other for the owners and employees.
Sylvester recalls that when the pandemic began, “We were trying to follow what the government was telling us to do. The mask mandate—nobody really knew if that was going to solve the problem. Was that a cure for everything? So, we posted our signs. Employees all wore them. It was the customers that didn’t want to wear them. It was the customers that gave us grief over it.
“After every time a shelf became empty we were scrubbing everything down,” she continued. “We stood at the doorway, and we scrubbed the carts down for every customer. I stood outside and counted how many people could come into the store at the same time. As well as do our other jobs. We didn’t have extra people to do all of these things.”
Sylvester says they average 70 full and part-time employees on the payroll. They’ve increased wages. But still, like many industries, they face a labor shortage. When you walk to the entrance, you can’t miss the large, poster-board sized, green signs with bold, red letters that yell, "NOW HIRING – ALL POSITIONS – 18 YRS AND OLDER."
Being short staffed is taking a toll on everyone.
According to Sylvester, “We don’t have the people now to take our own vacations. Hello!, we like to take vacations. too. This is a resort area. We see people who are out here on vacation. You know camping, isn’t that great? We can’t take our vacations because we don’t have the people to work. And it’s tough … it’s tough. It’s very tiresome.”
The labor shortage has meant that they have had to make the difficult decision to decrease the hours its deli and bakery are open.
Besides the labor shortage, the pandemic has also created a supply chain headache.
“The stress of everything is just very tiresome. It’s upsetting that we can’t get the product in the store. The products are just not coming in as fast as we can sell them,” she said.
She says it’s different products that are hard to get at different times. For example, they may be short of pop and beer products. The reason? “They can’t get the cans made because the cans are coming from out of the country. They can’t fill the cans to sell them. There was a shortage of cans at one time. Now we’ve heard there’s a shortage of some bottles. This country doesn’t manufacture a lot of stuff. So, now, we’re waiting for that product to come in from other countries.”
She also reports, much to her dismay, that they are also having a hard time getting spices.
Walking the grocery aisles with Sylvester, who dons an American flag face mask, it is easy to see how supply chain problems can have an impact on what is, or is not, on the shelves. Shortages range from Tequila to gravy mixes to power drinks to canning supplies.
At the end of the day, what keeps Sylvester up at night?
She admits that there are times she’s so tired she can’t sleep. But she often finds herself wondering how she will put a schedule together without enough people. Grateful for the staff members who have stuck with them through the pandemic, she does worry that she will not be able to give them the time off they want and need.
“That’s not right. That’s just not right,” she says tiredly, with a sigh.