Now We Are Six

WordPress changed everything around on me. Hopefully it looks the same at your end; I can’t find anything.

The Pat’s gang several years ago, back in the days when we employed more people. That’s me at front left, Kara in pink, and Jeff is middle-row right.

My first day at Pat’s Screen Printing was as a volunteer. Pat was headed for Montrose to have her gall bladder removed, and her only employee needed to print a big job and was worried about having to deal with customers. I was in my three-month “career” in airport security, which at the Gunnison airport meant lots of time off, so I volunteered to come in and answer the phone and fold shirts.

Except that Pat’s “schmutz” turned out not to be gallstones but cancer. I kept coming back to help out, and on the very day my boss lost her contract at the airport, Pat called me to her apartment over the shop and told me not to argue: she was putting me on the payroll. “I can’t argue, Pat,” I said. “I just lost my job.”

Thus I went, sort of, from the airport to the screen printing biz. (I found a different, part-time job at the airport, ground handling for American Airlines, a job I hung onto for the next 16 winters.) Pat’s desire was that her business succeed her; several months after her death I assumed ownership.

Pat was always all about the people she hired to help her. She worked with several of her close friends over the years, along with her son and some of his friends. The first person I hired was my friend Fred. I also hired, although I can’t remember in what order, Kara’s sister and two sons of friends, both of them 13 when they started. No one, including Fred and me, worked at Pat’s full-time.

Since then, a lot of people have passed through Pat’s as an employee, some of them very temporary contract work — I used to get two jobs from the ski area that at the time were my biggest print runs of the year, and I would take pretty much any warm body willing to come in and help out for two weeks in February.

I hired lots of students, both high school and college, which worked out quite well because I needed lots of help in the summer and not much in the winter. I was always pleased when some of the students came back summer after summer.

Over the years I also managed to unwittingly hire a fairly high percentage of substance abusers. That may have been Pat’s karma: this was a problem that plagued her family, and she served as an AA sponsor for a few people. Two of those employees have been lost to us, but I treasure the lasting associations that have come from these tragedies: we hear annually from Rose’s mother and Sonny’s girlfriend, both of whom say that their loved ones found success and felt valued at Pat’s.

So far we have not figured out how to get rich financially from Pat’s, but I feel wealthy in the number of former employees who maintain contact with us. Because Pat was right: it’s all about the people.

Over the last few years, reliance on part-time summer help got replaced, rather organically, by workers who arrived and didn’t leave. As we got busier and managed to make it not quite so seasonal, it was easier to offer full-time, year-round employment.

But maybe I got complacent as Pat’s morphed from any-job-to-keep-a-kid-in-chips to career positions with little turnover, I don’t know. I wasn’t really as prepared as I perhaps should have been early this year when Ben’s wife decided that his graphic design position of eight years was a dead-end job and he needed to leave.

Fortunately, Vann had just brought his resume by, and has happened more often than you’d think over the years, we told him we’d keep it on file but didn’t have an opening — then there we were, hiring him, and he has fit in rather seamlessly despite all the challenges of Corona.

It’s turning out, though, that Ben was the trickle in the hole in the dyke. Fortino, who had always seemed content in his job of six or more years, departed when his wife decided our job wasn’t good enough for her husband. We opted not to replace him, since we were in the throes of Corona.

And now Gilly has given her notice. She doesn’t have a wife to tell her our job is no good, and she is terribly anxious about abandoning us, but she’s going anyway. When Lynn asked why, the best I could come up with is that she seems as though she’s trying to find herself.

A couple years ago, when we offered to take her from part- to full-time, something I thought she would appreciate, she accepted but warned she would probably be leaving in September. It turns out she meant that, just two years later.

Gilly, who is one of those rare employees who can always — always — find something to keep her busy that’s actually also productive, is very creative with her sewing machine, and although she didn’t say so, I’m guessing she’s harboring some hopes of earning her keep through her fabric art.

Since we are still — these days, it feels like it’s going to be forever — in the throes of Corona, Kara and I have decided to try going forward without replacing Gilly. We started the year with seven employees, six of them full-time; in a little over a week we will be down to four core employees plus Jeff, from Six Points, and Omar, from Gunnison High School, each in for a couple hours weekly.

While I can’t really begrudge Gilly (although I confess to harboring resentment against two wives), who is approaching yet another birthday and feeling somewhat mortal during this viral time, Kara and I are rather deflated.

When the virus caused the county to start restricting and then closing businesses in March, we committed to doing everything we could to keeping everyone on our payroll. Even before we knew it was mandated, we offered sick and family leave, paying people for hours not worked. Jeff and Gilly were ordered by the county to stay home, Vann had to watch his daughter, Fortino and James got sick; we made sure all their hours were taken care of.

Frantically, I searched for every source of grant money I could find. I had trouble finding a bank to work with me on the Paycheck Protection Program, so I spent hours, if not weeks, trying to master the convoluted Employee Retention Credit. (Which I must not have done, because the IRS never attempted to send me any money.)

I implemented “Foodie Fridays” and provided lunch for the staff and their families for several weeks. I didn’t spend a lot of time on morale because my own wasn’t great, but Kara and I wanted to make sure everyone felt secure in their job. I think they did — Vann was really the only one who acknowledged the effort we were making, suggesting it didn’t strike anyone else as a big deal.

That’s okay. And I understand that life changes. (I didn’t really understand that allowing employees to get married would be such a mistake, but there you go.) Budgetwise, the departures are probably doing us a favor.

But as I continue to apply for grants, and look at the numbers they ask for — 6 full-time, 1 part-time in January to 3 full-time, 3 part-time in about one week — it doesn’t seem like we navigated Corona nearly as well as I thought. It makes me feel defeated, even if it helps us in the long run.

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