If you follow hockey and you drove past the Hollywood Market in Royal Oak last week, you’ve already smiled.
If you don’t or you didn’t, here’s a bit of over-explaining.
See, Steve Yzerman is the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. Two Wednesdays ago, on the first day NHL teams were allowed to sign free agents, he landed five of them. That’s a lot, and it made Wings fans very happy, especially the devotees of Finnish defenseman Olli Määttä, or the people who just like to say his name.
Hollywood assistant manager Tony Varcally is a former Clawson High School defensive end and an all-around sports fan, and he lets himself have fun sometimes with the big signboard at the Main Street end of the store’s parking lot.
Duly inspired, he posted this message in black capital letters:
“YZERMAN CAN YOU GET US SOME HELP TOO?”
Like other businesses, Hollywood Market has struggled to find employees even as COVID-19 restrictions have vanished and there’s no more bonus money in unemployment checks.
The store’s payroll of 70 full- and part-timers is at least 10 people shy of ideal, Varcally said. He needs baggers, checkers, stockers and especially help for the deli, which has been closing three hours earlier than its standard 9 p.m.
The weekend before Yzerman awakened Varcally’s muse, he’d been blessed with a cluster of online applications. “I hadn’t seen that in … forever, to be honest,” he said.
But he’s not sure why it happened, any more than he knows why workers have become such rare commodities.
More from Neal Rubin: In Inkster, a search for Malcolm X turns up Faygo containers
After long pandemic slumber, Detroit libraries turn on the lights
That puts him in step with the few economists willing to admit they’re only guessing — and at least for today, qualifies the Hollywood Market to be the unofficial microcosm of the economy.
The Royal Oak Hollywood Market opened in 1950 and is part of a five-store, family-owned chain. On Main Street north of 11 Mile, it’s 1.2 miles above and proudly different from the larger Holiday Market, with its wine club and Mirepoix Cooking School.
A few weeks ago at the Hollywood, a new hire at the market stepped outside with a sandwich on his lunch break and never came back. A young man who was supposed to start Monday never even showed up.
Still, Varcally insisted, it’s not that people don’t want to work. “That’s a 100% generalization, an easy target.”
To that point, University of Calgary researcher Paul Fairie posted 14 clippings online last week featuring complaints about Americans’ faltering work ethic. No pride, they said. No drive.
There was an example from every decade between 2014 and 1894. “Women,” grumbled someone in 1916, “don’t want to make butter anymore.”
In 2022, Varcally suggested, “some people are just stuck in a routine of not going to work. I know a couple of people who just haven’t shaken it off. It’s hard.”
Varcally, 22, took a job bagging groceries six years ago for a classic teenage reason: “I just wanted to pay for my PlayStation.”
He’s stuck around, he said, “because of the good people we have. I’ve made countless friends.”
The money doesn’t seem as ample now as it did before employers grew desperate — up to $13 per hour to start — but new hires can enjoy the same camaraderie that keeps Varcally coming back.
On a steamy day, the air conditioning is a plus, and since the market offers union jobs, they come with access to health insurance and a pension.
The toughest slots to fill, not surprisingly, are the ones in the meat and deli departments, which require the most expertise and involve sharp instruments.
Varcally has worked for the Hollywood chain for 27% of his life, and he has never operated the deli’s meat slicer.
“That’s why I still have all my fingers,” he said.
Olive loaf and overtime
He was kidding. Remember, he’s the one who put up the funny sign. But deli work isn’t easy, and a smaller sign on the counter asks for understanding.
“To our awesome customers!” it says. “We’re a bit short-staffed today and will be with you as soon as we can. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
Aptly named deli manager Becky Carver, 48, has worked at the market for 26 years. On a standard day, she’ll cut and sell meats and cheeses, make sauerkraut kielbasa and chicken Alfredo from scratch, turn out ribs that take three hours and faithfully fall off the bone, regularly check food for temperature and freshness, wash dishes, and beam at customers.
“I’ve been a mom for 29 years,” she said. She can handle it. As for the smiles, “I can make anyone having a bad day feel better. That’s why I’m on this Earth.”
Pre-pandemic, the deli had 19 employees. Now it’s down to five maxed-out full-timers and a part-timer who’ll be heading back to college in the fall.
“We never had a problem before COVID hit,” Carver said.
Then a lot of people who used to pull into the driveway exhausted found less strenuous ways to work at home, or retired, or watched other people do those things and began to rethink their priorities. In the first five months of 2022, even as employment numbers have climbed, 20 million people quit their jobs.
“Apply today,” she said. “We’ll open our arms and welcome you into our little family.”
Schedules are flexible. Hollywood employees get a 5% discount on food. Overtime is all too available.
A few days ago, she said, she hired a man who’d come in wearing a shirt and tie, something she hadn’t seen in years.
He was supposed to start Friday, but he called in the morning: His mother had been in an auto accident, he said, and he’d need a bit more time.
In a department where fingers can be in peril, Carver’s are crossed.
Neal Rubin can be reached at NARubin@freepress.com, or via Twitter at @nealrubin_fp.
To subscribe to the Free Press for less than the price of a dozen eggs, cluck here.