An army of teen employees is helping fight a Colorado tourist town’s worker shortage |

An army of teen employees is helping fight a Colorado tourist town’s worker shortage

Nancy Lofholm
Colorado Sun

Crested Butte is jammed with visitors during this former mining town’s busiest time of year. Impatient drivers fume on the clogged 15-mile-per-hour streets. Lines string out of restaurant doors. Espresso machines belch incessant steam as baristas race to fill cups. And the bins at ice cream shops are scooped to the bottom.

And yet, in all this commercial hustle and bustle, “Closed” signs dangle from the doors and windows of some of this town’s busiest shops. There aren’t enough workers to stay open full-time. Some businesses are having to shut down early, open late, or keep the doors closed for one or two days a week.

It would be even worse, business owners say, if it weren’t for the kids.

Brendan Hartigen, 14, works alongside his father, Sean Hartigen, filling water glasses for customers at The Last Steep Bar & Grill on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, Colorado on August 6, 2019. Sean and his wife, Sarah, who co-own The Last Steep, employ several pre-high-schoolers—friends of Brendan. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Crested Butte’s teens have stepped up and taken jobs at local businesses in numbers not seen before. This year a majority of the incoming freshman class of 72 students at the Crested Butte Community School is up to its elbows in dish water, scrambling to bus tables, ringing up sunscreen and T-shirt sales, and stocking shelves. Many are saving up wages — reportedly equal to what older hirees are paid — for a school trip to Scotland next year.

“I haven’t seen this many teenagers working in town ever. It’s like the businesses here have found a new vein of gold they can tap in what once was a mining town,” said Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News. His paper reported last week, through a business head count, that 75% of 14-year-old incoming freshmen at the Crested Butte Community School are currently working around town.

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