'It was a struggle': Raleigh hospitality worker grateful to be back at work after pandemic downturn

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, August 7, 2021
Wake County hospitality industry seeing a revival
Of the 943,000 jobs created in July, the lion's share, 380,000, were in leisure and hospitality.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The U.S. economy seems in the midst of a summertime surge. The new jobs report posted 943,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate that dipped to 5.4% -- a 16-month low. The industry showing the most gains is leisure and hospitality, including many hotel workers in the Triangle who were once laid off by COVID-19 and are now thriving again.

When COVID locked down the world and threw economies into tailspins, Alton Best-Philyaw lost his livelihood.

"I was laid off starting at the beginning of April," said Best-Philyaw, a Goldsboro-born and Raleigh raised man who lost his job at a Charlotte hotel and suddenly found himself struggling to make ends meet with gig work.

"I was basically doing Grubhub and Uber Eats, just trying to do something to make a little bit of money. Thankfully, I had lots of family support to help me throughout it. But it was a struggle," he said.

Sixteen months later, after the meal deliveries and a stint at an Amazon warehouse, Best-Philyaw is back in the hospitality industry.

Of the 943,000 jobs created in July, the lion's share, 380,000, were in leisure and hospitality. One of those jobs was Alton Best-Philyaw's. Several years after leaving Raleigh, last month, his old boss at the downtown Sheraton wanted him back.

"So they called me and asked if I wanted to work back here at the Sheraton and I said absolutely," he recalled.

At the White House on Friday, President Joe Biden acknowledged the potential pitfalls the Delta-variant-fueled COVID surge could set for the economy. But he celebrated the historic jobs numbers.

"Economic growth is the fastest in 40 years," Biden said. "Jobs are up. The unemployment rate is the lowest since the pandemic."

Back in downtown Raleigh, leisure business is looking up again. This weekend's e-sports bonanza, the Carolina Games Summit, is filling up hotel rooms not to mention restaurants and bars.

After two weeks back on the job, this front desk manager is hopeful but humble.

"We had a whole year where everything was basically pushed back and we didn't know when this was going to happen again. So the fact that it's picking back up sooner rather than later is a really good thing," said Best-Philyaw.

But while leisure travel is returning to some semblance of what it was pre-pandemic, work travel still is not where it was. That continues to hurt the hospitality industry. COVID's new Delta-variant surge only adds to the uncertainty.