Scarlet Lindsey | Civil Patriot
When I’m not writing stellar articles for Civil Patriot, I run a small bakery in a tourist town. Businesses like mine are always risky. Bakeries and small restaurants don’t always make a ton of money, even under the best of circumstances. I’ve done okay, what with a moderate stream of tourists. . .until COVID.
Two things happened over the past 12 months. First, the lockdowns. For a while there, I couldn’t open. . .at all. Then, finally, I was free to open for curbside. In our small town, not a lot of people caught the vision for curbside service, but the few tourists who ventured by my shop received sweet treats—some on me, since they didn’t have a lot of money to spend.
Second, I’ve only ever had three employees (besides myself) and I had to let one of them go in September. I had no choice. It came down to paying the rent and/or paying the additional salary and I had to make a tough choice. Someone I wouldn’t hurt for anything in the world, had to be let go. She’s currently moved back in with her family and is surviving on unemployment.
Which brings me to my current angst: I’m back up and running now, with doors open to the public. I was able to get a small relief loan, which bought us a little bit of time. But everything depends on how things go from here. We can only house a small percentage of our usual customers, which means I’m not bringing in enough money to balance the books each month. Which means my two employees are at greater risk of losing their jobs, too. Which means I’m at risk of having to close up my shop altogether.
And then I got the news that Biden has signed an Executive Order raising the minimum wage to $15/hour.
Fifteen. Dollars. An. Hour.
For some of you, $15 an hour is small potatoes. You already pay your employees that much. . .and more. But in my small town, it’s the other way around. The current minimum wage in my state is $7.25/hour. You read that right. I have always started my employees at $10/hour, which has been a bit of a stretch. Now both are up to $12/hour, which (to my way of thinking) feels impossible to sustain in the current situation. I can apply for more relief, but how will this story end if things don’t turn around? Soon?
How is a flustered, broke, COVID-weary shop owner supposed to survive? If I have to up their salaries, I won’t make it. Either one of them will have to go, (putting him/her on the unemployment roll and upping the workload for the two of us who are left), or I have to risk not being able to pay my rent. My landlord is already frantic because several of his other tenants have closed up shop. He’s counting on me staying open.
There’s one more option, of course. I can raise my rates. I can list my cakes for more. My cookies can go up in price. But my customers already see my products as a luxury item, not something they need to survive while battling financial woes of their own. So, will they really dig deep into their pockets to pay more money. . .for a cookie? Or a cupcake?
I don’t think so.
Which leads me back to square one. This might be the final straw that breaks this camel’s back. I might have to shut down. The combination of COVID lockdowns and the new minimum wage could be just the right (or wrong) combination to finally do me in.
And, I suspect, it will shut down multiplied thousands of other businesses, as well.
I’m usually an optimist, but this really has me feeling down in the dumps. There’s a weird part of me that wonders if they’re doing this to us on purpose. Do they want us more dependent on the government? Are they hoping we all give up so that they have more control over us as they dole out our monthly unemployment checks, along with meager stimulus checks from time to time? Are the Big Box stores chomping at the bit, knowing they’ll end up with all of our customers while we little guys go under?
I have no idea. I just know one thing: when it comes time to implement this new wage hike, I’ll have some horrible decisions to make. I’ll have to choose between one of the finest bakers I’ve ever known in my life. . .and an old friend who has been my biggest support since I first opened my shop.
What’s a weary business owner to do?