Hundreds of workers across Haywood County lost their jobs in a matter of days last week, with thousands more bracing for potential lay-offs and reduced hours as the economy grinds to a stand-still over the coronavirus.
The latest blow to hair salons and barbershops — ordered to close by 5 p.m. Wednesday — will be hard on the vast majority of stylists who work as independent contractors. That means they can’t get unemployment.
“It’s affected everybody around the globe, but if you can’t file for unemployment and you are living day-to-day, what are people going to do?” said Amber East, a stylist at Elements Salon in Waynesville. “It’s frustrating, scary, sad — all of that.”
East is lucky. Her husband works at a plant in Arden that’s still humming, although workers must queue up to get their temperature taken at the start of each shift.
One of East’s co-workers, however, is a single mom whose husband died and must carry the burden alone.
A slow-down in the construction industry seems inevitable as well, and contractors are already starting to see the effects of an economy spiraling down the tubes.
“I’ve had a couple customers already put the brakes on some pretty sizable renovation projects,” said Bill Holshue, a local electrician. “They said ‘Let’s hold off and see what is going to happen.’”
Once Holshue finishes the jobs he’s got now, it’s too soon to say whether there will be more in the pipeline. Even those not affected by job losses aren’t eager to spend money with their stock and investment portfolios tanking.
“I have a month of work in front of me, but after that, how long is this going to last?” Holshoe said.
As a small business owner, Holshoe’s mind is swirling with all the decisions he is suddenly faced with.
“I have two employees, and I don’t know what to do with them. My employees are paycheck to paycheck. I pay them pretty good money, but they have families to support,” he said. “By the same token, if I don’t see projects down the line, what do I do? I got to worry about my family.”
Holshue is a single-dad to boot, with two kids at home from school. “Trying to keep up with them for their school work, it’s crazy,” he said.
Business dried up almost overnight for Adam Grooms, owner of Rahama Kennel & Cattery. No one is traveling, so no one is boarding their pets.
“I have no paying customers right now,” Grooms said. “I haven’t had anyone making reservations, and most of my phone calls have been cancellations.”
All Grooms can do now is watch and wait to see how long it lasts.
“It is still kind of early. I am hoping things will turn for the best, whatever that means,” Grooms said.
For now, he has his own dog and Netflix for company.
“I’m just trying to pass the time like most people,” Grooms said.
‘They owe us big time’
At Brookside Mountain Mist Inn in Waynesville, Carolyn Giunta is doing all she can to reduce overhead with her bed-and-breakfast essentially empty. Turning the heat down and lights off may only save a few nickels a day, but those nickels suddenly matter.
“We have a cushion, but it won’t last forever,” Giunta said.
Besides, she’d labored her whole life to be able to retire one day.
“To have that eaten away and eroded away, it undoes years and years of work,” she said.
With guests cancelling left and right, and no bookings coming in, Giunta is facing a bigger problem than loss of income. She relies on revenue from guest stays to pay the mortgage on the rambling property, including newly constructed stand-alone guest cottages.
“I have double whammy,” she said.
Giunta wrote an email to her Congressmen last week imploring them to pass legislation that would essentially hit the pause button on mortgage payments.
“That’s everybody’s largest outgoing expense. It would give us immediate relief by mitigating the amount of money going out,” she said.
Besides, taxpayers bailed out the banks and lenders during the last recession.
“I think turnabout is fair play. They owe us big time,” she said. “If the rest of society is being put on pause the lenders have to be put on pause, too.”
In the meantime, she’s hoping to hang on to a few reservations for her stand-alone guest cottages, which have their own kitchenettes and are totally self-contained.
Even though some outdoor recreation areas have closed — including all trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park now — there are still places to get outside.
“If they are outdoorsy they can still go on a hike, they can still go to a waterfall,” she said.
A rigorous cleaning between guests includes sterilizing “anything and everything that people touch,” Giunta said, including remote controls, cabinet handles, and pull cords on blinds.
Groceries vs. TV?
Hundreds of Haywood County residents who worked over the mountains at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino are out of work following a shutdown of the casino last week.
“We are now worried about making our house payment, and that’s not including food or anything like that,” said Amber Lee, whose husband was laid off from Harrah’s.
While they were promised a final paycheck covering two more weeks, it doesn’t include tips, which accounted to the majority of her husband’s take-home pay as a gaming host.
They have two kids at Bethel Elementary and Bethel Middle, and this week, they started taking advantage of the free lunches and breakfasts
“We need to, we have to,” she said. “We are looking at what else to get rid of first and foremost.”
While TV may seem like a necessity being stuck at home with nowhere to go and nothing else to do, it might come down to that, she said.
“We can do without TV, but we can’t do without food,” she said.
Harrah’s employeed several thousand people across Western North Carolina and was one of the top 10 biggest employers in Haywood County. Aside from the casino shutting down, Cherokee is closing its borders.
Donna Teffner, another laid-off Harrah’s worker, isn’t sure how she will support herself and her husband with cancer now.
“I have no idea what I am going to do. None whatsoever,” she said. “It’s going to be really tough on a lot of people.”
They had moved here specifically because of the plentiful jobs available at Harrah’s. The rest of their family is up north, but they don’t have the money to move home.
“We couldn’t even afford the gas,” Teffner said.
Not everyone, of course, is losing their job. Edward Reed was popping into Staples Tuesday to buy a desk chair for his wife, a financial planner based in Asheville.
“Today is her last day working over there,” Reed said. They set up a home office over the weekend, minus the desk chair.
Brad Ruff is both a farmer and a builder. It’s unclear what will happen to the construction sector, and Ruff is concerned about the cost his feeder calves will fetch when he’s ready to sell them come fall.
But when all else fails, there’s some comfort in knowing how to raise your own food.
“I got cows, horses, goats, sheep, chickens,” Ruff said. “I got it if I need it. And I got enough knowledge about it to where I could live off of it. But these people in apartments, when they run out of boxes of Cherrios, what are they going to do?”
Ruff got a call from a local charity asking what it would cost to process a cow.
“They wanted to know what it would cost to slaughter one in case they needed it to help people. It would be good for the farmers, and good for the people who would get the meat,” Ruff said.
The shutdown of restaurants other than take-out has been particularly hard for the family-run Los Amigos Mexican restaurant in Waynesville, where 10 members of the same family work under one roof.
“All the family members did everything. My two aunts do dishes, my older brother and father are the cooks, and my other uncle, myself, my younger brother, my mother ad my cousin served the tables,” said Hilda Rios. “It is really hard for us.”
They are all sharing the hours, so each family member gets a little something.
“One of my aunts has four girls under 15,” Rios said. “We had to help them out as much as we could with this crisis.”
The family also has mortgage payments on a construction loan after just opening a new restaurant location in the fall. Anyone who can still afford to get take-out would be doing a huge service to the local economy by supporting restaurants struggling to keep paying their workers, Rios said.
“We want to thank the community for all the support they are giving us during this time,” she said.