COVID-19 hurt the bottom line for many Rim Country businesses in 2021.

They struggled to keep enough employees with the virus keeping some out because of health concerns.

Employees across the country gained bargaining power they hadn’t previously had as employers desperate to fill vacancies offered higher wages to fill open positions.

Of the local fast-food chains, McDonald’s was the most aggressive, advertising $16-an-hour pay rate for new employees. Others offered higher pay, as well.

Still, many businesses haven’t been able to attract enough workers, resulting in reduced hours of operation and closed or reduced dining room hours, with more emphasis on drive-thru, pickup, carry-out or delivery options.

But it wasn’t all bad news for some businesses.

Several new businesses opened in Rim Country in 2021.

Among them: Delicious Café, where co-owner Adara Jones said they opened with a focus on the new normal for many.

“We’ll have a huge focus on pickup and delivery,” she said just before they opened in January.

Another business actually expanded as Alfonso’s Mexican Food opened a Tonto Basin store in February.

“We did just as well as Payson does on a busy weekend,” owner Israel Luna said at the grand opening. “It’s going to be a busy little spot for us.”

Payson Fence Company and Supply celebrated 30 years in business on June 1 with owner Ty Chilson as busy as he’s ever been.

“There hasn’t been a drop off and I don’t understand it with how COVID has hurt so many people and businesses,” Chilson said early in 2021.

Although he had all the business he could handle with people stuck at home and improving their outdoor living spaces, supply problems were an issue.

“The supply chain has fallen apart,” he said a year ago.

Rim Country BBQ opened at 202 W. Main St. in Payson in March. Owner Robert Santoro and pit master Steve Wilson seem to have come up with the right recipe for success if you judge by opening day. They ran out of meat.

“You don’t want to cook too many and you want to have enough for everyone, so it’s hard to judge,” Santoro said. “We made 25 16-pounders of brisket (last night) and we got hit hard (at lunch).”

It gave them an idea of the kind of business they’d do.

Rosati’s Pizza franchise owner Brandon Cajthaml knows the feeling as he realized a 30-year dream by opening the Chicago-style pizza restaurant in early November in the former location of Little Caesar’s. It was a big opening day as he ran out of dough three hours before scheduled closing.

Speaking of Italian food, Payson’s Bret DaCosta enjoyed another strong year for his By the Bucket Spaghetti Takeout, which moved into a larger location at 319 E. Hwy. 260 in the Safeway Shopping Center in February. It’s the third location for the business, which opened in Payson in 2018.

He’s selling franchise rights across the country.

The new location offers more parking and expanded floor space to serve as the headquarters where they train franchise owners.

A remodeled Tiny’s Restaurant re-opened after a fire closed the popular eatery for 18 months.

Other big business stories we covered in 2021 included a story on the lack of veterinary care in Rim Country and Mazatzal Hotel & Casino adding a sports betting option, U-Turn for Christ opening a thrift store and Payson Golf Club opening a new restaurant.

Lasso American Scratch Kitchen opened at 1111 S. Beeline Highway in May.

Among the other business stories we covered in 2021 were A 2 Beeline Auto Glass & Tinting moving into a bigger location and celebrating 10 years in business and the opening of the following new businesses: Copper State Tax & Accounting, Discount Mart, Divine Catering, Payson Photo and Video, Pine Provisions, and Smoke on the Rim.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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