A discount store in Maine is closing after losing half its staff. Despite a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window, only 5 people applied for a job in 6 months, its owner said.

Workers say they’re leaving their jobs because of low pay, bad benefits, and a lack of flexible hours.

A discount store in Wiscasset, Maine, says it’s closing down because of the labor shortage.
The owner of Big Al’s Super Values Store told WMTW that the store had lost about half of its staff.
He’d only received five job applications in six months, he told The Times Record.
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A discount store in Wiscasset, southern Maine, says it’s closing after 35 years in business because of the labor shortage.

Al Cohen, who owns Big Al’s Super Values Store, told local news station WMTW on Thursday that he normally had 22 employees – now it’s down to 11. Half the staff were part-time, he told The Times Record.

Cohen told The Times Record that he’d only received five applications in six months despite having a “help wanted” sign in the window.

Most of the applicants weren’t hired, he said.

Cohen told WMTW that he would discount the remaining stock and close the store by the end of the year. He added that his neighboring store, Big Al’s Fireworks Outlet, would stay open.

Cohen told local TV station WGME that his part-time employees made nearly $240 a week, but that they could make $715 a week “for a whole year” if they took unemployment benefits.

“You’re competing with the government for employees,” Cohen told local television station WGME. “And they make a lot more working for the government than they do for me.”

Maine’s state unemployment insurance lasts up to 26 weeks, and for new initial claims filed on or after June 1 2021, people can claim between $89 and $511 per week, based on how much they previously earned. Claimants can receive an additional $10 per dependent per week.

On top of this, the federal government introduced enhanced unemployment benefits in March 2020, including $300 weekly supplemental payments. The benefits expired on Labor Day.

Some businesses have blamed benefits for staffing problems – but some companies in states that cut off the benefits early say they’re still struggling to find staff months later.

Cohen told The Times Record that he had cut his store’s opening hours from eleven to eight hours a day because of its staff shortage. The reduced hours led to a one-third drop in revenue, he told WMTW.

“[Closing the store] is the right thing to do, but it’s very sad,” Cohen told WMTW. “I built the ship, and the ship has been sailing great. All of a sudden I don’t have a crew to run the ship, so it’s time for the next chapter in my life.”

Other businesses across the US have been cutting their hours, raising prices, and, in some cases, closing for good because they can’t get enough workers.

Do you own or manage a restaurant that’s struggling to find staff? Or are you a hospitality worker who quit your job – or the industry – over pay, benefits, or working conditions? Contact this reporter at gdean@insider.com.

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