By Theodore Nappo
GREAT BARRINGTON — Carr Hardware, along with other southern Berkshire businesses, are having difficulty finding and retaining young employees.
In many storefronts in Great Barrington there sits “Help Wanted” or “Accepting Applications” signs.
In the Berkshires, especially, there is trouble finding stable employees who are both experienced and motivated.
“I think every business-person I talk to, they tell me they have problems with retention,” said Bart Raser, co-owner of Carr Hardware.
“The labor pool is a challenge,” Raser said, “It’s a challenge to find and retain good people. We’ve had a lot of good people who have had a lot of years behind them. We have a solid base, but finding new people is a big issue.”
For employees at Carr Hardware, the positions are mostly customer-facing, which means being extroverted and having strong social skills.
“They have to be comfortable working with people,” Raser said. Many of the open positions at Carr Hardware, especially the entry-level positions, are filled by young people.
“I think our younger staff want and appreciate schedule flexibility more so than their predecessors,” he explained.
A looming point of worry for Carr Hardware’ Bart Raser, is the upcoming minimum wage increases. “My sense is that there’s going to be a lot more wage compression so that the new-hire pay isn’t going to be different from someone who has worked for five or six years,” Raser said. He explained that the minimum wage increases are going to be a challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers; for Carr Hardware, the playing-field would be uneven. “We can’t complete with online retailers like Amazon,” he said, “We want people to have a fair wage to live and have a nice lifestyle, if it were the same across all states and all businesses, it would be easier on us.” Carr Hardware has locations in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, the minimum wage increases will not be enacted concurrently.
Regarding the Connecticut locations, Raser noted that recruiting has been easier than in neighboring Massachusetts. “There’s a bigger amount of people, people with more experience,” he said.
The simultaneous aging and shrinking of the population in Berkshire County contributes the Carr Hardware’s struggles, as well.
Raser owns and operates Carr Hardware with his father, Marshall. The business was founded by Sam Carr and first opened in 1928 and in 1962, the Raser family purchased it from Carr. With six locations ranging from North Adams to Avon, CT, Carr Hardware is a successful supply store for local and regional residents.
Along with Carr Hardware, businesses in Great Barrington, like Baba Louie’s Pizza, Patisserie Lenox, Big Y Supermarket, and the relatively new Steam Noodle Cafe, whose “help wanted” sign asks for both part-time and full-time applicants.
A contributing factor to the inability for businesses to find new and experienced individuals is the size of the general population. According to the United States Census Bureau, Berkshire county’s population has been on the steady decline. Since 1970, the Berkshire population depreciates by about 5,000 residents every ten years. In 1970, the population of the county was 149,716 and as of 2015 it stood at 127,828.