BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Restaurants struggled to stay afloat during the early days of the pandemic last year. Now as capacity restrictions are being lifted, many restaurants are facing a new struggle – staffing.

Some businesses are finding it tough to get back up and running. Help wanted signs are everywhere, but the restaurants say they can’t fill the positions they had to cut last year.

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Usually this time of year, restaurants are ramping up staffing, but right now, many cannot find the help they need and are competing with others and retailers in the same situation.

Business is booming at Black Eyed Suzies in Bel Air, but manager Daniel Cruz said he can’t find workers. Those he has are worn out, he said.

“Getting staff members is absolutely ridiculous right now,” he said. “We are running very lean. A lot of our people are exhausted. Some have actually become hurt working too much.”

The shortage comes at a bad time because as restrictions ease and vaccinations ramp up, people want to go out to eat. The Restaurant Association of Maryland reports a dearth of job applicants in the service industry across the country.

Workers have several reasons for not wanting to work, said Marshall Weston, association president.

“It’s the stimulus money people have received. It’s the boost from the federal government when it comes to unemployment,” Weston said. “Then there’s certainly those people who are hesitant to move into the workplace who haven’t been vaccinated yet.”

Some Fells Point restaurants say they’re operating with less than half their usual staff.

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Others, like Denzel’s Shark Bar, say they have to close early every day.

Retailers also are feeling the sting.

The help wanted signs are up at Su Casa, but owner Nicholas Johnson said no one is applying.

“Because we can’t be fully staffed to meet the needs of our customers, we are actually closed one day of the week because we cant push our staff any more,” Johnson said.

Su Casa needs 15 workers, but he has no applications to review. And he said he fears the problem will get worse as it affects the morale of the employees he does have.

“It’s starting to impact staff morale because you feel like you’re running at 110% at a year now,” Johnson said.

Last year when the pandemic first hit, restaurants and bars lost 5.5 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the jobs are returning, it’s nearly 2 million below pre-pandemic levels.

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Kelsey Kushner