Nova Scotia

Out-of-work pub staff offer 'free labour' to Dartmouth neighbours

While employees at a Dartmouth, N.S., bar are temporarily out of work because of damage to the building after a recent storm, they're volunteering their time in the community.

Storm damage has shut Staggers Pub, so workers turned into super-volunteers with acts of kindness

Co-workers Tara Bailey and Terri-Linh Hua-Ayles became best friends working at Staggers Pub & Grub. They say the bar is a 'second home' because of the staff and customers. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Staff at a downtown Dartmouth, N.S., bar temporarily shut because of storm damage are out of work, but using their free time to do acts of kindness in the community.

They're ramping up their efforts for Mother's Day weekend by delivering flowers and helping out at a lingerie shop. 

Debbie Phinney, the owner of Staggers Pub & Grub, said her employees told her they wanted to volunteer their time to help other businesses while repairs continue to fix a hole in the roof. A late April storm opened the roof, sending water pouring down three floors. Insurance will cover the repairs, but not the wages. 

She wrote on Facebook that her "team has been going crazy from boredom" and was looking for a way to give back to the community, which has supported the Portland Street watering hole since it opened in November 2013. 

"My team wants to offer any downtown Dartmouth business their individual or collective free labour. This means to help ... [with] cleaning, running to pick up children, etc., without having to worry about closing your door to a potential sale," Phinney wrote. "As an owner, there are times when just getting to the washroom is a struggle."

Shannon Marshall's challenges of working alone, such as needing someone to mind her store so she can use the washroom, inspired Staggers staff to help out local businesses. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

It's unclear how long the bartenders, servers, cooks, a cleaner and a doorman will be off the job. Phinney noticed a new water leak next to the bar on Wednesday and she said repairs are tied up with the insurance companies.

She said knowing the six women and two men who normally work for her are volunteering in the community is "probably going to carry me" through the difficult time of repairs. 

She already had a friendly relationship with Shannon Marshall, who owns the neighbouring lingerie store Indulgence. Phinney would often cover for her so she could slip out without closing her shop. 

"She is the mother of Dartmouth and she takes care of us all," Marshall said of Phinney. 

She's benefited from the volunteer work by Staggers staff, including one who spent time hanging lingerie in the store.

"To lead by example and to do positive instead of negative regardless of the situation. She's built this team of really like-minded people," said Marshall.

'I love this place'

Phinney said some of the employees have been with Staggers almost since the day it opened, when the bar suffered from an image problem. She hopes to persuade her insurance company to cover the employees' lost wages.

Debbie Phinney has worked in the bar industry for 34 years. She says tables and chairs can be replaced, but there's no substitute for her dedicated staff. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Tara Bailey, a bartender and server, calls Staggers her second home and her co-workers her siblings. The regular customers complete the family atmosphere.

"If we're sitting at home, [the regulars] will send us a message to see how our day is because we're not at work and they didn't see us," said Bailey. "I love this place."

'I have the best staff'

This Mother's Day weekend, she and a co-worker-turned-best-friend, Terri-Linh Hua-Ayles, will be helping another Portland Street business, KoKo Mod, with floral deliveries.

"Sitting home for the past week-and-a-half has been driving everyone a little bit stir crazy, so it definitely makes me feel good to be able to go out and do something that's helping them as well as keeping my spirits up," said Bailey.

Phinney is also asking the public to contribute to a GoFundMe campaign for the workers, who are waiting for employment-insurance benefits to kick in.

"I'm blessed to have a bunch of them. I have the best staff," she said.

While Hua-Ayles, bartender and server, has managed to squirrel away some savings, she said it's "absolutely terrifying" to be off work while she raises her young daughter.

But she's grateful for the community support which will allow her to help deliver Mother's Day flowers.

Phinney says this water leak next to the bar is new. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"I had one of my regular customers offer to babysit my kid so I can do stuff, which is really, really awesome," said Hua-Ayles. "Those [offers] are hard to come by, so it's really nice to know that our community supports us too."

Phinney plans to join her employees on Monday as they volunteer to clean up along the railway tracks in Dartmouth. She said the stress of the closure is being alleviated by the "humbling" actions by her employees.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at


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