Local Businesses In Jackson, Wyoming Cut Hours, Services Due to Lack of Affordable Housing
Businesses across the West are struggling to find employees this season. So much so that many are cutting services or hours, and soon, some might have to close completely. Will Walkey from KHOL in Jackson, Wyoming, has been talking to business owners in his area, and he reports on what they say is the main reason for their dire labor shortage: a lack of affordable housing.
A rambunctious mix of German shepherds, poodle puppies, chihuahuas and more are all interacting with each other at DogJax, a kennel and doggy day care south of Jackson. It seems completely chaotic, but the owner of the business, Gururaj “Guru” Sahasrabudhe, said that’s actually the point.
“Humping is very common. Barking in the face is very common. Trying to fight with somebody, even if they are social dogs, is very common. And we keep all that at bay,” he said. “That’s our job.”
Sahasrabudhe has owned DogJax for two years. He’s originally from India and moved here under a J-1 visa. He also owns a dog himself, a border collie heeler mix named Rowdy.
“If you don’t give him a treat, he doesn’t say hi,” Sahasrabudhe said.
Sahasrabudhe loves providing services to the local community of passionate dog owners. He also said no other kennel in town handles as many dogs as he does—somewhere between 50 and 100 a day.
“I personally work and work and work and put my energy into a dog to make them socialize so that when they go out on a trail or in a party, they are behaving very well,” he said.
DogJax also usually provides training and grooming in addition to doggy daycare. But a few weeks ago, Sahasrabudhe had to suspend those services because he can’t find enough qualified employees. He normally needs about a dozen people to run his business. Right now, he only has four.
“There is literally no groomer in [a] 50-mile radius. And people are crazy. People know that we have closed grooming, yet they call us every day. At least 10 people call every day to make sure that either we got a groomer or we are providing them services by any means,” Sahasrabudhe said. “The previous owner made almost $400,000 dollars on grooming. We are missing that revenue just because nobody can find frikkin’ housing here.”
Sahasrabudhe said he often gets applicants who are ready to take a job, but then have to bail because they can’t find a place to live. He and his wife, Priyanka, have had to move into an apartment above DogJax themselves to save money. Priyanka helps clean the kennel’s facilities, but the couple is starting to burn out.
“Just to give you a general idea, I haven’t had a day off in three months and neither did she,” Sahasrabudhe said. “Three months. And we work [from] 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week. That is a lot on us, too.”
Sahasrabudhe said he’s seen increased demand for his services this year, as more people are moving here and buying or adopting pets, often without the time or experience to handle a dog. But he’s still had to close on Sundays and is considering shutting down on Saturdays as well because his limited staff just can’t handle the workload. If the current trends continue for another six months, Sahasrabudhe said he’ll have no choice but to shut down.
“I have a tremendous amount of business, but no way to provide that service,” he said. “Physically, I’m the only person who’s an experienced handler at the moment in the whole facility, and we get 69, 70, upwards of 100 dogs. I cannot manage 100 dogs. It is inhumane to [the] dogs and me.”
DogJax is far from the only business affected by this season’s labor shortage. The Teton County Library recently announced that it has to close on Sundays, and the Recreation Center is also limiting its hours of operation. But perhaps the largest sector struggling right now? Restaurants.
Over Teton Pass in Driggs, Caroline Personette is working behind the bar at The Royal Wolf, a local dive with a pool table in the back and vintage neon beer signs hanging on the walls. Personette is the bar manager, and she said the restaurant never used to struggle to find employees because it’s such a fun place to work. Not so much now.
“It’s hard. I mean both front and back [of house] have just been short and that’s the reason why we are shut down on Wednesday,” Personette said. “Just not enough people to keep us open seven days and not enough applicants. People apply and then don’t show up.”
Many of Jackson’s most famous restaurants, from Cafe Genevieve to Local, are limiting their hours, too. Graeme Swain owns and operates several restaurants in Jackson and other states. He recently had to cut a day of operations at Palate, one of his businesses north of town.
“It’s our employees that are at their exhaustion point early in the season,” Swain said. “You know, we’re used to it in September after a bludgeoning that you have over the summer and everything. But we’re having it early [in the] season.”
Swain has also been pitching in as a busser, dishwasher and host over the past few weeks just to keep Palate running.
“And it was probably one of the worst services I’ve ever put together in my total restaurant history,” he said. “I’d rather protect my brand and our name and our employees and shut down than service the public [that way].”
Swain said he’s worked hard to try and retain employees, including raising wages, but he’s still never had this much of an employee shortage. He said it all comes back to housing.
“I have a chef of ours from another restaurant in another state that’s come here. And this is his third journey to come here to fill a void in our labor market. And this last time, I couldn’t even get a house for him. I had to put him in a camper on my property,” Swain said.
Like Sahasrabudhe, Swain said he’s “one broken leg” away from closing some of his restaurants entirely. Peak summer season is when the business makes most of its money, so he’s losing revenue with every hour he can’t stay open.
“All of my colleagues and everything around me, when you see them closing down on a summer night—on a weekend summer night—you know damn well there’s an issue,” Swain said.
In light of the situation, Swain is asking folks, if they can, to tip a bit more than usual. He also urges the local government and private developers to build more affordable housing fast.
“Every marketing company right now is tagging that thing—experience. Well, if the experience [in Jackson] isn’t so great because of service, what does it do? It changes everything. When I leave a place and I go, ‘Man, don’t go there. That’s horrible,’ or whatever, you don’t want that,” Swain said. “And we’re not there. But I mean, we’re flirting with it.”
Ryan Nourai, a board member for the housing advocacy organization Shelter JH, agreed that the community is approaching a breaking point. In a recent survey conducted by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, nearly 95% of businesses said housing challenges make up the core of their struggles to retain workers.
“Businesses have reached out to their representatives saying, ‘We need immediate rent relief. We need something from our local municipality for relief now,’” Nourai said.
The question is: Where does that kind of relief come from?
“Let’s talk turkey. This is taxes that we’re talking about, and something is very wrong. Something needs to change,” Nourai said.
Nourai advocates for real estate transfer taxes and higher lodging taxes as potential solutions. But any such revenue streams might not come in time to help businesses like DogJax.
“If the community does not think it is an essential business… they need to rethink,” Sahasrabudhe said. “Because when we are not here, they are going to start realizing that.”
Sahasrabudhe also pointed out that several local elected officials bring their dogs to his kennel and used to get them groomed there. Maybe, he said, it’ll take him closing down for some of them to realize just how bad the employee shortage has gotten in Jackson Hole.