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Supply chain issues, staffing struggles are hitting the Central Coast, but business owners are finding creative ways to get ahead of the holidays 

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It's almost that time of the year: Post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday is upon us, and the countdown to gift-giving season commences. But as supply chains grow increasingly strained, business owners may find themselves struggling to fill the shelves—and in turn, holiday shoppers may have a harder time filling their stockings.

"When we were in the heart of the pandemic, we had a lot of people not going out, not a lot of people in stores," San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Dantona said. "The speed at which you needed to restock shelves, get new products, was still at a bit of a trickle pace. When the doors kind of reopened in June ... [businesses] didn't have anything ready to meet that huge new demand that came over summer. So what we're seeing here is a culmination of lots of triggers going off at the same time."

Businesses got inventive to fill the gaps that supply chain issues had widened.

"It's weird stuff that we're having a hard time getting," said Matt Pearce, owner of Old San Luis BBQ. "Takeout service products dried up across the country, so we were having to kind of scrounge and get weird paper products to do our disposable takeout containers."

Pearce likened it to a game of Whac-A-Mole.

"As soon as you get one thing resolved, something else pops up," he said.

click to enlarge STAFFING UP Old San Luis BBQ owner Matt Pearce said one of the biggest struggles this year has been finding enough staff. - PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photo By Malea Martin
  • STAFFING UP Old San Luis BBQ owner Matt Pearce said one of the biggest struggles this year has been finding enough staff.

Even more challenging for Pearce is building back his staff after the pandemic, something he's been struggling with since February this year.

"It's taxing," he said. "The business has bounced back, but the opportunity to meet our customers' and our clients' needs, through supply chain or through labor shortages—it's been a real big challenge this year."

As a barbecue restaurant, Pearce said his business hits its peak during the summer months, so the holiday season may provide a bit of breathing room to continue rebuilding staff. For others, the holidays are the peak of the year.

"I've got friends that own businesses downtown, and they've been busier in the summer months than they typically are during the holidays months," Pearce said. "Now, they're just like, 'I don't know what we're going to do in the holiday months, if already this year is blowing records out of the water.'"

Cool Hand Luke's in Santa Maria is expecting a busy holiday season, but the steakhouse can't find the staff it needs to reach its full potential.

"I don't have any people coming in to interview. I've done sign-on bonuses, incentives for my current employees to bring people in," owner Shawn Van Pelt said. "I think there's a lot of people who left the whole industry in general because they had to find other forms of income to support their families."

SLO Chamber President Dantona thinks that the pandemic led a lot of people to reimagine what it means to make a living, and that may be contributing to the staffing struggle restaurants are now facing.

"Some of these folks that were in restaurants, or in employment where it disappeared for a very long time, they remember that, and don't want to put themselves back in the situation where that might happen again," Dantona said.

Dantona predicts that business will level out for a lot of local stores over the holidays, particularly for the retail industry—not for lack of demand, but lack of supply.

"What we'll see is more of a flat line from these previous three or four months as opposed to a massive upswing in those numbers," Dantona said. "The supply chain will limit how much sales will happen during that time."

Not all retail stores rely on the international supply chain, though. Small businesses that source locally and hand-make their products have more flexibility in what goes on their shelves.

click to enlarge ONE OF A KIND The Junk Girls on Monterey Street in SLO expects a busy holiday season, but owner Jenny Kompolt said her store's largely handmade selection will help avoid some of the supply chain issues that many other businesses are tackling. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JUNK GIRLS
  • Photo Courtesy Of The Junk Girls
  • ONE OF A KIND The Junk Girls on Monterey Street in SLO expects a busy holiday season, but owner Jenny Kompolt said her store's largely handmade selection will help avoid some of the supply chain issues that many other businesses are tackling.

The Junk Girls, a quirky shop located in the historic Muzio's building on Monterey Street in SLO, is all about using reclaimed materials and found objects to create their distinctive product lineup. This approach was already foundational to the business pre-pandemic. But now, as supply chains stall, co-owner Jenny Kompolt said her store's scrappy, self-made spirit may just be its saving grace in getting through the holiday season.

"It started out of art therapy for me, and creating things, essentially out of things that people would throw away or see as junk," Kompolt said of her business, which she co-owns with maker Melissa James. "The store is filled with lots of things that we create and our staff creates, in addition to other makers that we admire and bring in."

In this way, "we create our own supply and demand," Kompolt said.

"We've been affected by [supply chain issues], but it has not been a huge detriment to us because we make so much of what we have," she continued. "If we were low on one type of thing, we would hopefully find something that we could create to fill that. ... Fortunately, we have that bandwidth."

Shopping small makes an impact on the local economy every holiday season, but this year, it may also be a matter of necessity as online stocks run low and big-box stores struggle to fill empty shelves.

"If people are producing things locally, and aren't being constrained by the supply chain, they will have the inventory to meet the demand," SLO Chamber CEO Dantona said.

He added that if a local store doesn't have what you're looking for, a gift card can be the perfect way to support that business while they restock. The chamber is also bringing back its popular Buy Local Bonus in partnership with the city of SLO. Starting Nov. 15, 2021, people who spend $100 or more at any local business in SLO city can receive a $25 gift card.

"Go out and find those special things," Dantona encouraged, "whether that's experiential or actual physical things that are being made locally." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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