Despite increased demand for dining and shopping as students return to campus and COVID-19 restrictions ease, many storefronts on Thayer Street are struggling to hire enough employees to fill their shifts.
The Army Navy Surplus Store closed permanently Dec. 15, 2020, The Herald previously reported. The building will next be demolished and replaced with new storefronts.
Mike Boutros, owner of Mike’s Calzones and Chinatown On Thayer, purchased the lot the same day it closed and plans to use the space for “two restaurants most likely,” and potentially retail and residential space in the upper levels.
Boutros estimates this new development will take about a year. He plans to open a pizza restaurant called Mighty Mike’s Pizza in the coming months, which will occupy the original location of Chinatown that underwent an expansion in June 2021. Chinatown is currently operating in two lots: its former storefront and the space formerly occupied by Durk’s Bar-B-Q. Chinatown will continue to occupy the former Durk’s storefront.
Off of Thayer, East Side Mini Mart will close this month to make room for a new University dormitory on Brook Street. Demolition of the current building, as well as neighboring store Bagel Gourmet, is set to happen sometime in October, according to a sign in the Mini Mart window.
Ceremony Tea, a popular cafe among Brown students, has relocated from Thayer Street to the ground floor of the apartment complex on 21 Euclid Ave. A soft opening for the new location is slated for Sept. 10, according to a post on the shop’s Instagram account.
Vegan restaurant by CHLOE is now called Beatnic as a result of a recent rebranding from the chain’s corporate office, according to its website. Beatnic will continue serving the same menu.
Aroma Joe’s, a new coffee shop, has moved into 257 Thayer St. and is hiring for its upcoming opening, the date of which has not yet been released. A Bank of America location will also open at 271 Thayer St.
Ayame Hibachi Express opened at 269 Thayer St. Aug. 30, filling the vacancy left by B.Good, which closed last May. Joey Ghoe, manager and owner of the new restaurant, explained that while the business was doing well, he has faced difficulty in hiring people to fill shifts.
“We can’t hire anybody,” Ghoe said. “It’s not easy to open a restaurant right now.”
Ghoe has been relying on friends and family to help out at the restaurant due to these hiring difficulties. Ayame Hibachi Express has to close at 9:30 p.m. instead of midnight, which Ghoe would prefer, because they are short-staffed, he said. He believes that the pandemic may have permanently changed people’s habits and preferences when it comes to work. Potential staff “don’t want to come back to work in a restaurant” when they could work from home, Ghoe said.
Several storefronts and restaurants on Thayer, including Shaking Crab, Ten One Tea House and bb.q chicken + Soban Korean Eatery, are currently looking for workers, based on signs in each store’s windows and posts on social media. Berks, a retail and shoe store, has seen increased demand from customers and fewer people looking to work at the store.
Berks “is significantly busier than it was this time last year,” said Jocelyn Donald, an employee at the store. Eased capacity limits and social distancing requirements in Rhode Island have helped business, they said. But there are times where Berks is understaffed, creating difficulties for the store. “We are definitely thin of people who can work all the hours we need,” Donald said.
Boutros agreed that finding new staff members has presented a challenge for his businesses. “Hiring has been the worst,” he said. “It’s been difficult to find help.” He expects that the expiration of pandemic-related unemployment payments on Sept. 4 will incentivize workers to return to restaurants and stores.
Boutros is hopeful for the future as vaccination rates increase and pandemic restrictions ease. “We’re hoping that everything goes back to normal, like we were in 2019,” he said.