Service Industry Workers in the Mid-Ohio Valley Do Their Best to Stay Positive During Trying Times

Earlier this month bars, restaurants, theaters, fitness centers, salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and spas across the nation were ordered to close in an effort to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. For many, the announcement came suddenly with only hours of notice to make closing preparations. While restaurants and bars in most states are still legally allowed to offer carryout and delivery, many were no longer able to meet payroll for their full staff. Thus in a matter of just a couple days, thousands of service industry employees – from bartenders and waitresses to baristas and stylists – found themselves with shortened hours or worse, without a job.

Logan Piatt, a server at River Town Grill in Marietta, said the announcement on March 15 from Governor DeWine came as a shock. “It was a huge surprise that none of us saw coming.” That day, all but three servers were laid off. “There really wasn’t any time for us to prepare to lose our jobs.” Piatt said River Town Grill did their best to keep employees updated and offered employees and their families free meals if they needed it. She and others have tried to apply for unemployment benefits but haven’t been able to because of the website’s excessive traffic following the series of announcements that preceded the Stay at Home order.

Most of us do not have contingency plans.

“Most of us do not have contingency plans,” said Katie Evans, Coordinator for Community-Based Learning at Marietta College and a server at The Galley. “For me, it means I won’t come close to making my credit card payment this month.” While Evans considers herself ‘one of the lucky ones,’ many of her coworkers do not have additional income to rely on during the shutdown.

Similar scenarios are playing out all across the country with at least 25 states mandating the closure of restaurants and bars. Here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, many restaurants have chosen to close temporarily until the Stay at Home orders have ceased. Others are adapting their business model to meet both the necessary health and sanitation precautions and the evolving needs of the community.

Ryan and Jacquelyn Neville behind the counter at River Dog Cafe & Diner

River Dog Café & Diner opened in Williamstown, WV last July with a mission to provide a relaxing venue for families and friends to enjoy a good meal and exceptional service, employing three staff. When owners Ryan and Jacquelyn Neville heard that Pennsylvania had made the decision to close bars and restaurants, they decided to convert their business model from restaurant to grocery drive-thru to help provide the community safer access to much-needed supplies, while also retaining their staff.

By allowing customers to place their order online or over the phone, community members are able to pick up essential groceries without leaving their vehicles. Neville said their hours for grocery pickup are by appointment, with orders prepared to pick up every Tuesday evening, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. When this is over, the couple plan to continue to follow their mission in the best way they can to serve their community.

We can get through this together.

Tony Styer, owner of the Marietta Brewing Company in Marietta, has had to temporarily reduce staffing to a skeleton crew to maintain operations and continue carryout services. Styer said the support of his regulars is appreciated now more than ever. “Our regular customers have been amazing and very generous,” he said. He and his wife began the application process for the Small Business Association (SBA) Disaster Loan application but experienced trouble with the website, compounding existing frustrations plaguing the industry right now. Still, Styer remains optimistic that his restaurant and his neighbors will survive. “We’re all in this together, and we can get through this together.”

Tony Styer and Eric Larrabee serve carryout in an empty restaurant.

While many restaurants have been forced to reduce staffing, one local restaurant is actively hiring. House of Wines owner Sally Oliver hasn’t had to let staff go, but did have employees request to stay home following school closures and the Stay at Home order. To keep up with demand, House of Wines is hiring two minimum wage positions.

Oliver said she was not prepared for DeWine’s announcement on the 15th, but has since adapted her business concept to meet essential needs, provide carryout and delivery service. “We offer free delivery within Marietta city limits and have rewritten our menu to be better suited for carryout orders,” she said, “including dishes that hold well in a box and can handle a microwave.” The new menu includes affordable grab-and-go options that are ready to microwave. Oliver is also offering family-style meals by special request.

I’m doing my best to stay optimistic that if we do all we are doing, we’ll be past this as quickly as possible

Patio season, aka spring and summer, is the House of Wines’ favorite time of year. After having to cancel their Australian wine dinner and St. Patrick’s Day event, Oliver is holding onto hope that they will be able to host diners in house again in May. “Patio season is our Black Friday,” she said, “if we don’t have patio season, I’m not sure what it will look like.” Although Oliver said the business is currently operating at 50% of normal capacity, she said she’s trying to stay positive. “I’m doing my best to stay optimistic that if we do all we are doing, we’ll be past this as quickly as possible. Until then, we’ll continue to serve and remain essential.”

Unlike restaurants, who are able to provide curbside, carryout and delivery services, there’s not a way for most salons and barbershops to supplement their income.

“On Wednesday, March 18 I received a text from a friend informing me of Ohio’s request that all salons be shut down by the end of the day. My eyes welled up with tears as the reality suddenly sank in,” said Chelsea Holt, owner and sole stylist at The Hair Hippie in Marietta. “The reality is I no longer have an income and have no idea when I will be allowed to reopen my salon doors to begin to bring in revenue again.”

Chelsea Holt styling client Hannah Carroll’s hair, photo by Allison Chadock

Despite the weight of this realization and the uncertainty ahead, Holt said she is full of hope after receiving kind words and generosity from the community, her clients, friends, and family. “I’ve been sent so many words of encouragement and advice, I have been checked on continuously, and I have even been sent money from my precious clients.” Holt said even people she barely knows have sent money. “There is such solidarity in this moment when times seem to have stopped. We are all in this together and on a global scale – this is a human issue. And while my current struggles are tough, there is still so much for me to be grateful for.”

One of the blessings Holt counts is that she is the only cosmetologist in her salon right now, noting that she could not imagine how heartbreaking it was for fellow salon owners to have employees relying on them when decision making is out of their hands.

“There are so many that are suffering, whether from the illness itself – the very thing that has created this monumental shift in our reality – or from the monetary strain. I can only hope the kindness that has been shown to me is being shown tenfold to those who are hurting,” said Holt.

I am full of hope at this great coming together of humankind and the bigger picture that is unfolding behind such a difficult time of life.

Since opening her salon four years ago, Holt said she has found that Marietta is not in competition, but in community. “I am always impressed by the unity of this town and how supported we are as small business owners,” she said. “Whether it be flooding and virus or celebration of our uniqueness, we remain strong and unshaken as a city. I am full of hope at this great coming together of humankind and the bigger picture that is unfolding behind such a difficult time of life.”

Like the others we’ve heard from in this community and across the nation, she believes we will get through this, together. And so do we.

Want to help service industry workers who have been displaced or had their hours cut? You can leave a tip for a local service employee through the MOV Virtual Tip Jar. No money is collected or distributed by Clutch MOV, you can tip employees directly.