Covid-19’s End Is in Sight; Labor Shortage’s End Is Not

Fresh & Popping Inside Beauty Supplies—Beauty Industry Story

Covid-19’s End Is in Sight; Labor Shortage’s End Is Not

Last May, a mask-burning ceremony was held in New York. Burning ceremony is clearly out of time and place as New York is not a medieval village. Even more shocking is that the ceremony was led by a New York Mayoral candidate who shared the stage with local restaurant owners. Wasn’t the mask one of the most effective tool against the threat from the coronavirus along with the hand sanitizer? It was an annoying event demonstrating imprudent and hasty judgment of people on the mask.

I was working as a gig driver around the onset of the pandemic. As I had a travel authorization, I could go anywhere I wanted during the mandatory shutdown period. In the first few days, it was a surreal scene you might see in the apocalyptic movies featuring zombies. Many observers noted that it was a “different world.” As a living witness of the 5.18 Gwangju Uprising, I can say the two scenes were not that different. No cars other than police patrols were out on the street, and after 8 pm, the street was nearly empty. Some highways became a racetrack. Unruly street racers casually drove at speed exceeding 100 miles while the police gave up on enforcing the law due to infection worries. Other than those street races, only essential workers and gig workers were on the street.

After the shutdown, most people excluding the essential workers were ordered to stay home. Due to office closures, business owners were in a deep trouble because they could not find a way to operate legally. On the other hand, most employees had a sad/happy moment of getting a break from work while often missing paychecks.

During the pandemic, I met a large retail storeowner who shared the overwhelming woes. He ran three large retail stores and felt like the sky was falling as the overhead like rents started to pile up. In a desperate attempt, he rebooted an online retail website, which was built a long time ago but left unused, with a help from one of the most trusted employees. They were originally at the store to clean and organize the retail shelves. To his surprise, they received 15 orders on the first day. Customers were actively looking for ways to place orders for daily goods and found the website. As such, the two of them started to receive orders and delivered the goods or prepared them for a curbside pickup, which actually turned out pretty good for the business. Telling this story, the business owner didn’t hide his happy face with a relief. Most retail stores who run the business with curbside pickup options reportedly had a quite a run. Often they were so busy that they had to skip lunch.

On the other hand, back in June when beauty supplies started to reopen with curbside pickups and limiting the number of customers allowed in the store, employees’ loyalty to the workplace was placed in a plain display. The same goes for the employers’ relationship with the employees. The employees who had a good relationship with the employer and loved their work and workplace took the risk for the business whereas others enjoyed the increased unemployment benefit, almost $1,000 a week for some. Most of the employees stayed at home blaming Covid-19. You could probably see it as a measuring stick for the good employer-employee relationship. Although it’s a personal choice for employees, many employers were very disappointed and found themselves in a hiring crisis.

When I started to work at a retail store, I had not thought through. In fact, everyday felt like going to a war zone. Every second, I felt the tension and fear about the infection. Staff and customers were alike. During the pandemic, I personally met about ten business owners and managers, and nine of them disclosed that they had a confirmed case in their business. If you put the business insiders’ stories together, you could tell infection was on the rise from September 2020 to January 2021. I believe it was about the same across the country. The store I worked at was no exception. Although a business owner should share any infection report with every staff member, many of them often hid the fact to avoid business interruption, which resulted in further spread within the store. Even if you tried to hide, everyone would notice if someone took a two-week leave. Considering the circumstance, it was pretty common for employees to openly complain about it.

When I meet people in the industry nowadays, we often debate whether the business could really go back to normal. As everything is turning back to normal, some miss the New Normal they’ve got used to. “I could stay at home with a cushy unemployment benefit, but now I have to actually work for less money. Well, I would rather stay home.” Many more people than you would imagine share this view.

The situation surrounding Covid-19 certainly got better, but hiring a staff member is still tough. There are more customers in the stores than ever, but workers are not coming back.


Industry News_Column BY Jaylord Ryu
BNB Magazine JUL 2021 ©