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West Town Pizzeria Owner Couldn't Open This Past Weekend Due To Labor Shortage, And He's Far From Alone With The Problem

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many business owners say finding new employees is harder than it has ever been, and economists say there is no sign of that changing anytime soon.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday night, it is all forcing more and more business owners to make tough choices to survive.

For restaurants like Coalfire Pizza at 1321 W. Grand Ave. in West Town, weekends are usually bread and butter for business. So imagine the hit the owner there took when he was forced to close down at the last hour because he had no other choice.

It was a first that owner Dave Bonomi never expected or wanted.

"I painfully made the decision," he said.

On Sunday after two staffers called in sick, Bonomi hung a sign in the window saying the restaurant was closed and explaining why, and sent a tweet saying he could not open because he did not have enough staff.

"In 15 years, I've never had to close because of lack of staff or labor," Bonomi said.

Bonomi is back at full staffing now. But he took a hit of about $5,000, and he fears he is just a couple of sick calls away form having to close suddenly again. He said finding new employees is near-impossible.

"I've never put a job ad out and had zero people respond in a month's time," he said.

Bonomi is not alone. "Help wanted" signs are everywhere, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings nationwide are at record levels – dipping only slightly from July.

"It's certainly not getting better, and I think that is surprising to most economists," said DePaul University economist Brian Phelan.

Phelan said the pandemic, government assistance, and shifting life priorities are all likely reasons.

"You know, it taught a lot of people that they can find and do enjoyable things without spending money," he said.

But it means employers like Bonomi will continue to scramble – hiring more teenagers than ever before, and offering incentives.

"We're starting people at $18 an hour," Bonomi said.

Phelan believes the labor shortage in a year won't be as bad as it is now. In the meantime, in addition to things like higher wages, it means more businesses could close because they just don't have to help.

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