Staff-strapped Grand Marais businesses brace for a tourist boom

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Dee Brazell has owned World’s Best Donuts, a fixture in downtown Grand Marais, for 20 years. It’s been in her family for even longer. Her grandmother opened the small shop more than a half-century ago. 

And after all those years, she still loves to come to work. But the last two summers, she said, have been difficult. She’s had to close the business two days a week and close two hours early the days she’s open, because she can’t find enough workers. 

“I’m so frustrated with not being able to run my business the way I’d like it to be run,” she said. 

“I’m so tired of seeing help wanted ads in every single window. It’s so frustrating to see that we’re all in the same boat. And it’s not a fun boat to be in.” 

Throughout Grand Marais, business owners are struggling to gear up for what they expect to be another busy pandemic-sparked summer tourist season. 

Just down the street, Sven & Ole’s Pizza has big signs plastered on its front windows, advertising up to $21 an hour for full and part-time jobs.

But for the past two years, there haven’t been nearly enough workers to staff hotels, restaurants and stores, at the same time that the number of tourists has surged. 

“We had the best of times in terms of the amount of business,” said Jim Boyd, policy and advocacy director for the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. 

“And the worst of times in terms of how many people were available to serve them. And it created a lot of hardship, a lot of hard work, a lot of burnout.”

It’s a far cry from the early days of the pandemic two years ago, when businesses in Grand Marais and along the North Shore of Lake Superior were bracing for the worst.

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