Out of work: Students with off-campus jobs struggle as storefronts close, cut hours

Lindsey Shultz spent March 18 as her last day, at least for a while, at Old Navy folding sweaters.

Few customers walked the gray cement floors perusing new outfits. With coronavirus precautions spreading through the Empire Mall, store owners eventually decided to close up shop, leaving their employees without work for the foreseeable future.

Like Schultz, many college kids work part-time at retail stores and restaurants. But with many storefronts closing their doors in fear of coronavirus, some Augustana students are at a loss for hours — some have been laid off entirely. 

A junior majoring in sociology and Spanish, Schultz has worked at Old Navy for three years. During Augie’s second week of spring break, she said the store started to cut her hours.

“I just felt frustrated because we were kind of sitting ducks, [asking], ‘Okay are you guys going to close?’” Shultz said.

As other stores in the Empire Mall started to close, Old Navy followed suit.

First, the store paid workers for their scheduled shifts. Then, according to average hours. 

Shultz said now they are on furlough, meaning they are not paid but some are still eligible for benefits. However, as a part-time worker, Shultz does not receive any benefits.

Now Shultz lives in a house off-campus with a roommate from Seattle and another from Denver, and still needs to buy groceries and pay rent. She not only misses the money, but also doing a job she liked.

“I actually do really enjoy working and having that balance between school and work and a social life,” Shultz said.

Madyson Brown, a junior communication disorders major, began working at Olive Garden in September.

“I figured [that] I love pasta so much, why not give them a call?” Brown said.

She said the serving job was perfect for her bubbly personality because it allowed her to joke with and befriend customers. 

However, her hours were also cut during spring break, similar to Schultz’s. Then, dining rooms in restaurants around Sioux Falls closed. 

Losing hourly wages and tips has been difficult, Brown said, but she’s found ways to supplement her income since returning to live with her mom in  Willmar, Minnesota. Her parents pay her to homeschool her kindergarten and fifth-grade brothers, and she can pick up shifts at Target.

“It’s still kinda rough because I want to go back and be that serving person that I’ve always been,” Brown said. “And it’s hard to stay in one household with two kids when I’d rather be serving pasta.”

Lindsey Grassmid, a senior art and English major, also worked as a waitress at Rooster’s Bar and Grill in her hometown of Menno, South Dakota. 

With the restaurant closed, she said she still works at a chicken farm and freelances as an artist. But even these jobs have changed.

Grassmid can no longer interact much with her boss at the farm, who is considered high risk for coronavirus, and she has to maintain distance with those who commission her to make home decor or paintings.

She received three commissions at the beginning of spring break but none since, although she added that these are usually irregular and it’s hard to tell if commissions have been affected by the virus.

Grassmid said she hopes to work for UPS and do some landscaping work this summer before pursuing her job search in Michigan next fall.

“The thing that’s given me the most trouble is my job search because employers who I had been in contact with before are no longer focusing on hiring at the moment,” Grassmid said. “[They’re] focusing on how to move forward with what’s going on.”

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