When workers in New York declared the first Labor Day in 1882, they dedicated it to the economic and social achievements of American workers and celebrated it with parades and speeches. But today, for many retail and restaurant workers, Labor Day will be just another business day.
“People love to shop on Labor Day, so we’ll be pretty slammed,” said Amy Stephens as she pawed through a pile of vintage clothing Friday at Buffalo Exchange on Telegraph Avenue.
Stephens, manager of the vintage clothing store, said the shop would keep its normal Monday hours and has even scheduled extra staff for the expected crowds.
At the Crepevine on College Avenue it’s a similar story. The restaurant is doubling its wait staff to accommodate an anticipated extra demand. Saku Densmaa, a waitress, said that she didn’t really want to work on the holiday but has to.
“I don’t get any extra pay, but it will be busier, so I’ll get more tips,” Densmaa said. Asked whether the day holds any significance for her, she wrinkled her nose and thought. “Not really,” she said. “Usually it’s just a day off.”
At Cody’s bookstore, the registers will also be ringing. Store employee Tataya Goto said Labor Day is quite different from celebrations in his native Japan. There, he said, workers still parade and rally in the streets during their labor holiday. Goto, though, is working today.
Some are happy to be at work. Vick ‘Sonny’ Sing, a shift manager at a 7-11 store on Telegraph Avenue has decided to stay behind the counter today, even though the store’s manager told him he could knock off with vacation pay.
“I get time and a half, a bonus and a free lunch,” Sing said, smiling. “People who live around here will be out. On Telegraph, almost everything is open.”
Proprietors who are closing shop today say it’s because of a lack of traffic.
Sophie Mahdavi, who runs Euclid Flower Shop, a block north of the UC campus, said her business is greatly affected when the university is not in session.
“Food and drink business is different,” she said. “People need to eat. They come out and get their coffee, but they rarely buy things. Flowers last only two days. I can lose a lot of money.”
Across Euclid, Hummingbird Café is also closed.
“We’ve tried to stay open on Labor Day in the past, but it wasn’t worth it,” Jamal Fafes, Hummingbird’s owner, said Friday. “Nobody is around. Nothing. We don’t even get 20 percent of our normal business.”
Fafes’s decision to close on Labor Day isn’t purely economic, however. It’s a chance to take a rare vacation, he said.
“The kids don’t want to work anyway, and I have a newborn child at home and would rather spend the day with him,” he said.
At Brennan’s on Fourth Street, Kim Kenny was busy Saturday evening pouring pints for thirsty customers at the restaurant. “They’ve always been closed for Labor Day,” she said. “We’re union, but I don’t think that matters. It’s just standard policy.”
A union member, Kenny stated pointedly that the holiday was created to honor workers. But she said, “it really doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t mind working. Our customers … really take care of us.”
On the door of novelty houseware store Maison d’Etre in Rockridge, a sign advises passersby to “take a day off from Labor.”
Fred Womack, the owner, has personal reasons for closing his store.
“I take my holidays when I can. This store is open seven days a week, and I’m usually here at least five or six days,” he said.
“If I stayed open I could probably make some money,” he added.
But the statement came with a shrug, and Womack is opting instead to follow the advice on his sign.