Fairlee Diner succumbs to labor shortage

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FAIRLEE, Vermont (WCAX) – A restaurant in Fairlee is closing, much to the dismay of regular customers. Economic experts say this could be a sign of things to come.

The Fairlee Diner has been a community staple for decades, but owner Ray Gilman says he has no choice but to stop. “I can’t run a restaurant without help,” he said.

Gilman has owned the restaurant for nearly 30 years, but the grill will soon be shut down for good. It’s a bit of a punch for those who eat there all the time. “I come here twice a day sometimes. I eat breakfast here every day they are open,” John Scopetta said.

Gilman says employees have been hard to find since the pandemic, and he says it’s not just about paying them more. “Nobody wants to work in the restaurant business, really not,” he said.

And restaurants, especially small independents, are under severe pressure, according to economist expert Art Woolf. “The restaurant industry has one of the lowest profit margins,” he said.

These profit margins shrink even more as wages rise. The higher costs are often passed on to the consumer. Small independent restaurants also compete with larger chains that can take advantage of economies of scale. “These pressures aren’t going to go away even if the pandemic issues go away,” Woolf said.

And Woolf says other businesses, including general stores and local pharmacies, are also in decline.

But in this restaurant, it’s almost as if a family is torn apart. “It’s a lot of people. It’s therapy for them. I mean, they’re here every day and they’ve been coming here for years and years and years,” Gilman said.

Scopetta is one of them. He takes the news of the closure badly. “It’s devastating. I’m going to cry, I’m serious. I can’t believe it,” he said.

Meals will cease to be served at the restaurant this Sunday. The owners are hoping to find a new owner to take over the restaurant, but at the moment no buyers are lining up.

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