Long Island Beach Hotspots Face Labor Shortage Before Summer Kickoff

In a perfect storm facing COVID, inflation and a lack of affordable housing, Long Island's east end grapples with a labor shortage while preparing for a busy summer season.

Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Sandy shores, lobster rolls and vacation vibes -- who wouldn't want to soak up the sun while working a summer job on Long Island's East End beach paradise? Despite its beauty and charm, New York's beach communities are struggling to hire new talent.

The Twin Forks, including the towns of Riverhead, Southold, East Hampton and Southampton, prepare to welcome hundreds of guests for the unofficial kickoff to summer, but many small businesses are reporting a labor shortage that could pose longer wait times for tourists.

NBC New York reached out to two dozen businesses across the North and South Forks of Long Island and spoke with owners from various industries like hospitality and fitness.

"We've got a fair amount of return calls or resumes to fill the positions, but it's been difficult. We've had to pull from other parts of the business, like a store in Port Jefferson. We've had to take some of that staff and pull to the winery," Pindar Damianos, general manager and owner of family-owned-and-operated Pindar Vineyards, told News 4. He hopes that college students will fill the gap.

According to this year's national AAA forecast, over 39 million travelers will journey 50 miles or more from their homes this Memorial Day weekend, an over 8% rise since last year.

As vacationers gear up for the extended weekend trip, small businesses in resort communities scramble in search of extra hands before the wave of visitors.

Skyrocketing Prices

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all reason to blame for the slow recruiting process, a few shared arguments are due to inflation, real estate and "The Great Resignation."

"Honestly, I think it has to do with the housing situation. It has always been a problem, it's just gotten worse," said Andrea Anthony, co-owner of eatery The Lobster Roll, otherwise known as Lunch, located in Amagansett and Southampton.

To her, it is a combination of two aspects: the Town of East Hampton's rental registry laws and private homeowners jacking up prices for a room. Low to middle-class professionals and families cannot keep up, including longtime locals on the Twin Forks.

Pictures of houses for sale are displayed on a real estate office in Main Street on September 30, 2020 in Southampton, New York. - Beach umbrellas are in back garages as temperatures cool, but wealthy New Yorkers are staying in the Hamptons beyond summer, fearful of the pandemic and rising crime in the city. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Renie Costello, general manager of Carissa's Bakery, believes this difficulty in employment has been trending over time and accelerated during the pandemic with Manhattan neighbors living out east year-round in addition to purchasing investment properties.

For Hamptons real estate, the annual median sold price jumped almost 20% within one year to a whopping $2.25 million in 2021, sellers being less negotiable, according to Hamptons Market Data.

"Two years ago, I had more closings out here on purchases from people migrating out east than probably in the past 10 to 15 years, so there are a ton of people out here, more specifically to the North Fork," said Richard Vandenburgh, who is the founder of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, president of the New York State Brewers Association and a real estate attorney.

For further perspective, currently on Airbnb for any given July weekend in the Hamptons, nightly rates range anywhere from $300 to $13,000 per night. On top of that, soaring gas prices, up to $6.00 per gallon, and seasonal bumper-to-bumper traffic prevent workers from even clocking in on time.

Twin Fork businesses also rely on international laborers and may rent spaces to ensure housing is available for workers. Alex Berentzen, president and COO of Organic Krush Eatery and Montauk restaurant La Fin Kitchen and Lounge, made sure to book ahead.

"We did that [booked] last year -- literally in October. We went to the same people and said we're going to pay in advance, and we're going to lock in the homes for next year, and we knew how many beds we were short," said Berentzen.

Some companies read the tea leaves and made strides to beat the competition early. Gabriella Macari, general manager of family-owned-and-operated Macari Vineyards on the North Fork, decided to try a new tactic this year by partnering with the human resource company Empowered Hospitality for support.

Particularly for wineries, searching for staff who can stay into the fall months for harvest is crucial. Word-of-mouth connections and building a network of acquaintances have gone a long way for similar organizations.

'The Great Resignation'

The United States continues to watch employers grapple to fill roles. The labor market hit a new record of 11.5 million job openings in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with about 4.3 million people quitting jobs in the month of January alone.

In November, the U.S. hospitality industry lost a record-high 1 million workers, such as line cooks, wait staff and hotel employees. Corporation juggernauts like Amazon or Starbucks rival local businesses with tempting compensation and benefits -- forcing small companies to rethink strategy and costs.

The fitness industry is still feeling the blows after enduring the height of the COVID pandemic. Over the last two years, 25% of all health and fitness facilities closed while more than 1.5 million jobs were cut, based on The Global Health & Fitness Association.

"We've had extra challenges in that we lost a lot of our staff during COVID and because we're in the fitness industry, a lot of people didn't want to come back, so we're only just now just starting to get tour attendance back," said Lienette Crafoord, owner of Hamptons Hot Yoga.

People wearing face masks walk by Main Street on September 30, 2020 in Southampton, New York. - Beach umbrellas are in back garages as temperatures cool, but wealthy New Yorkers are staying in the Hamptons beyond summer, fearful of the pandemic and rising crime in the city. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Crafoord and Damianos note the added, odd challenge of potential hires ghosting interviews by not showing up.

And the staffing problem may reach further into western Long Island. Jennifer Donatelli, the event planner of Sundae Donuts, says the company has been wrestling to hire at all levels from counter staff to management across multiple Long Island locations.

"We thought maybe it's the college kids because they want more money or have internships. High school kids too, can't find them. I literally called and emailed the public high schools around us that we're hiring -- nothing," said Donatelli.

Meeting Customer Expectations

With an influx of patrons and less working staff, most owners are still confident in ensuring guest happiness overall but have some uncertainties due to supply chain woes and inflation.

"I am a little worried about price perception because we've had no choice but to raise prices. In Southampton, we keep our prices low for the winter knowing that in the spring we had to go up," said Anthony, "That's a little scary. There's only so much that you can charge, and prices are off the charts."

Another change this year, Berentzen has decided to skip out on offering lunch and kept to weekend brunch and daily dinner menus, which he says helps with preventing the crew from wearing out.

"Please be patient and spread kindness. Everybody is working so hard. I see these guys in the kitchen literally just sweating it out on the line, and people working 12 or 14-hour shifts," Berentzen shared.

Contact Us