By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– The streets were lively in Denver on Friday. And there were a lot of smiles.

“You know what I like about it is, that’s the first sign of life,” said David Howard of the scooter company, ScooTours Denver.

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He likened it to a Roaring 20s comeback, “It’s so great to see the officers directing traffic. It’s like, we’re back to normal.”

The Colorado Crossroads volleyball tournament was back with 20,000 visitors. That meant hotel stays and restaurant bookings. An estimated $13.5 million will be added to the economy in the first big event to return to Denver in the pandemic.

At Stout Street Social, general manager Hunter Shumaker had a broom out cleaning up by the front door.

“I spent about an hour behind the bar washing glasses before this,” he said as he worked.

The restaurant had energy. Wait staff hustled. The manager greeted people. They haven’t been able to hire hostesses.

“The pool is not that great right now,” explained Shumaker. “And you would think that everyone would be looking for jobs right now, but it’s not there.”

In a month of postings on Indeed and Craigslist, he said, “I’ve had zero host applicants.”

Restaurant consultant John Imbergamo says there are multiple reasons.

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“All of the restaurants had gone on to skeleton crews throughout most of the pandemic. and they’re all hiring people at the same time. Everybody’s looking for the same line cook hosts, waitresses. Things like that.”

Additionally, he says with good weather, patios are opening and that means staffing up. Restaurants like Stout Street Social will be able to lessen their distance between tables from the current six feet in a couple of weeks. That too will mean more capacity and more people. Shumaker says they probably won’t go to full capacity to ensure that customers feel safe, but they’re looking forward to it.

“And then thirdly,” added Imbergamo, “There is this element of the $300 extra supplemental unemployment benefit that maybe makes it a little easier for some people to stay at home.”

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Several restaurant owners have suggested that it’s a disincentive to return to work. Imbergamo isn’t convinced it’s a big part of the issue.

“There’s no doubt there will be some people who are afraid to work, or that have childcare issues that have changed through the pandemic.”

There are also some who have left the business during the pandemic.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says in the first three months of the year, the latest figures available, the state’s employment levels rose by 46,100 jobs.

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“Approximately 66% of those job gains were concentrated in the accommodation and food services industry (30,400 jobs),” wrote senior economist Ryan Gedney in reply to an email.

He also noted there may be hesitancy among the unvaccinated and younger people who dominate the industry have been vaccinated later. “

While older adults have had vaccinations options for a while, vaccinations were not widely available to the 16+ Colorado population until the beginning of April. This could impact the labor supply of industries like restaurants, who rely on a relatively younger population of workers than most industries.”

Imbergamo says he keeps watch on job postings. Some may be forgetting that before the pandemic, jobs were also going unfilled.

“Pre-pandemic on a Monday there would be 200 listings for jobs in the hospitality sector. The other day there were 80. We’re probably not in as dire a situation as we were back then. Probably because there were fewer restaurants.”

But as Colorado gears up again, there seems to be pressure to raise pay to attract workers. Running restaurants he noted is getting more expensive and that could be passed on to diners as well.

Shumaker, was still smiling as he swept the floor and watched his staff working. He agreed that it was a changed business.

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But coming back, “It does feel good. It feels great.”

Alan Gionet