River Cinema maintains strong employee retention and satisfaction amid tight labor market – Grand Forks Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS — While many businesses are struggling with hiring and retention as a result of the COVID pandemic, River Cinema in East Grand Forks is experiencing the opposite — a boom in young, enthusiastic employees.

For Roxie Honkola, who first worked at River Cinema from 2011-14, and returned in 2018 after a four-year hiatus, working at the theater is a family affair.

“My grandfather is the one who built this place,” said Honkola. “I moved here right after high school, and theater seemed like a fun place to work. My brother worked here before me and really loved it, so I was excited to try it out.”

Owner Penny Stai, who took over the business from her parents in 2020, mainly employs young and university workers. Stai said hiring young staff is a very typical trend in the movie theater industry, and praised their work ethic.

Stai said: “Most of my employees are 16-24 years old. “I’m very happy to work with a younger age group. They are very hard workers – responsible and reliable. Many of them will volunteer to do shifts when their colleagues can’t come in. do it.”

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Honkola appreciates the flexibility Stai offers his employees now that he has a family of his own.

“Penny lets you come in and tell her what your schedule is, then she works around it with you,” said Honkola. “I have a daughter, and she’s very kind enough to keep me from working nights and weekends. I used to bartend, and that kind of schedule as a bartender is impossible.”

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(L-R) River Cinema employees Jayce Kasprowicz, Damian Moore, Melah Evenson Perez, Harley Kolbo, Savannah Schaefer and Greyson Kuznia take a break for a photo Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in East Grand Forks.

Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Stai knows the importance of having such a dedicated and hardworking team in the current labor market.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Grand Forks County for November, the most recent month for which data is available, was 1.6%, more than 2% below the national rate of 3.7%. Having such a low unemployment rate can make it difficult for employers to attract and retain employees. Stai says it’s something he’s not worried about.

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“When COVID hit, many businesses were laying off employees. We kept all our employees after opening,” said Stai.

Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce, said such a tight job market is beneficial for the area’s youth.

“When I was growing up, finding a job as a high school student was very competitive,” said Wilfahrt. “Today, the market is 180 degrees different. Our metro area has one of the five lowest unemployment rates in the United States, so young workers have a lot of job opportunities. I also think that the current market forces employers to meet their schedules. “Get involved. It’s important for young workers to balance other responsibilities like school.”

Stai credits its ability to attract and retain employees by offering flexible benefits and schedules.

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“We offer our full-time employees vacation time, half meals on days they work and free movie tickets for themselves and a guest,” said Stai. “We can also work around their school schedules by offering night and weekend shifts. I think the positive work environment speaks for itself – most of my staff stay for at least three to four years.

Stai also said that its current employees are also a good source for recruiting and hiring new people.

“Most of my new hires are referrals from existing ones — friends, family, roommates,” said Stai.

In terms of continued growth at the theater, Stai says each year since the start of the pandemic has been stronger than the previous, and he expects attendance to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

“A lot of the reason behind our delay in reporting the 2019 numbers is related to the delay in film production,” said Stai. “Instead of the usual 90 major releases, there are around 36. Many animation components are behind. We expect more new releases in 2023, hoping for pre-pandemic numbers by the end of 2024.


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