McHenry County businesses struggle to hire workers as reopening continues

  • Kayla Caccamo, 18, of McHenry Township, left, is trained by cook April Etheridge on May 6, in the kitchen at Grinders Ale House in McHenry. Caccamo has reentered the workforce during the pandemic in hopes of paying for cosmetology school with her earnings.

    Kayla Caccamo, 18, of McHenry Township, left, is trained by cook April Etheridge on May 6, in the kitchen at Grinders Ale House in McHenry. Caccamo has reentered the workforce during the pandemic in hopes of paying for cosmetology school with her earnings. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

Updated 5/11/2021 3:02 PM

John Macrito, the owner of Grinders Ale House in McHenry, had never considered offering hiring bonuses to employees who start work in his bar and restaurant.

But he is thinking about it now, as it might be necessary to bring on more workers.


"I'm afraid to expand my menu because we can't staff," he said.

Grinders is among several McHenry County businesses that encountered difficulty hiring as the COVID-19 outbreak slows with safe and effective vaccines more widely available and as public health officials loosen public health restrictions.

While Macrito, who was elected as a McHenry Township trustee last month, is glad to see the state move forward with reopening the economy, he is worried he won't have enough staff to efficiently serve growing numbers of bar and outdoor patio customers as the weather warms, along with his takeout orders.

About half of Grinders sales have been sandwiches out the door, Macrito said.

"I'm thinking of doing hiring bonuses. It looks like the only thing that might work," he said.

Even as national unemployment figures dropped to a low for the pandemic, according to Thursday's labor report, luring people back into jobs hasn't proven easy locally.

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"Businesses can't get anyone in them to hire," Harvard Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Crystal Musgrove said.

Her organization canceled the job fair it usually holds in May, to try to bring teenage as well as seasonal laborers to local employers, because she felt there was little interest.

Macrito was able to hire one McHenry High School West Campus senior, Kayla Caccamo, and is hoping to bring on more younger workers. But both Caccamo and Macrito acknowledged fewer teens may looking for work, as some, particularly high school seniors, are desperate to spend the summer with their friends after nearly a full academic year of not seeing classmates in person at school.

"I wanted to work because I wanted to get out of the house," Caccamo said, adding she remained in fully remote learning during the entire pandemic because she has family members at high risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.

She asked a couple friends to come work with her, too, but so far is unsure they will.

"We are hoping once school is out, these high schoolers and college kids will come out and work," Macrito said.


Business owners along with Musgrove said they think several factors are driving hesitancy to take a job right now.

Among them are the facts that remote learning is still the academic situation for many students, and parents being at home to help facilitate that can be necessary; the majority of the population has not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19; and unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic are still being supplemented with additional cash through federal policy.

SweetPeas Emporium, a bakery in McHenry near the city's West Campus high school, also was able to recently hire two high school students.

But it hasn't been easy to bring on staff, said Linda Grundy, one of the bakery's co-owners. That's partly because the business is trying to make up for revenue lost during the pandemic.

Once the bakery is generating some more revenue as the reopening continues, it could become necessary to bring on some more workers. Grundy and her fellow co-owner, Lisa Helbig, work from early in the morning until the SweetPeas shop closes at 6 p.m.

But the shop, whose owners have been best friends for 50 years, added ice cream and staying open until 8 p.m. would be more ideal for that product's sales, Grundy said.

Her daughter, also a high school senior, was offered full-time work at the shop this year, but so far has preferred to stay part-time, working shifts occasionally, Grundy said.

The fact her daughter is a senior and lost her last year of high school to COVID-19 "is probably why I'm more lenient on her," Grundy said.

She said SweetPeas looked to hire specifically younger high schoolers who would be around the community, likely living with their parents, for the next few years.

Macrito also said he understood why some younger people may not look for jobs this summer, before they head off to college or start another year of high school, so they can catch up with their friends.

"Who can blame them?" he said.

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