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The Daily Tar Heel

Local businesses closed to support 'A Day Without Immigrants' protest

Merritt's Store and Grill closed temporarily on February 16th due to a large majority of the staff's participation in the Immigration Strike.
Merritt's Store and Grill closed temporarily on February 16th due to a large majority of the staff's participation in the Immigration Strike.

Across the United States, immigrants did not attend school or work to demonstrate just how important they are in their communities. Many Chapel Hill restaurants and businesses closed because they could not operate without their immigrant staffers.

“We definitely heavily rely on them, especially in the kitchen,” said Root Cellar co-owner Susan White. “It definitely hits business, but we support them and we feel like immigrants contribute to our economy and business. We appreciate what they do.”

White said the Root Cellar hired a skeleton crew so that the cafe could open for part of the day. While she does not usually come in to work everyday, she came in and helped in the kitchen herself Thursday.

She said 22 of the Root Cellar’s immigrant employees participated in the strikes.

“They started talking about participating and we started planning,” White said. “We’ve got a great team of workers, immigrants who have been here for years. We’re like family.”

The Franklin Hotel owner Jay Patel also said some of his employees came to him in advance of the protests to discuss participating. He said they were concerned their absence would overwork their teammates.

“Our team came to us last week and said that they were struggling and didn’t want to leave the hotel in a bind, but wanted a way to confront the situation,” he said. “We were able to confront the situation together.”

The Franklin remained open Thursday.

“Our job is just to serve our team and the people that work on our team and be true to our principles,” Patel said.

The Durham location of Elmo’s Diner, Mediterranean Deli and Merritt’s Store and Grill, however, all closed for the day. According to a statement, Venable Rotisserie Bistro owners and management gave workers a paid day off.

Immigrant workers make up 95 percent of Merritt’s staff. According to a statement, they chose not to work to protest changes in immigration policy and unjust deportations happening in the United States.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Nancy Oates said she was really pleased with the protests.

“We rely so much on the work of immigrants,” she said. “We needed something just to show the importance of the contributions that immigrants make to Chapel Hill.”

Oates did not hear about the protests until Wednesday night. When asked if the town had any part in planning the protests, she said she believed it was completely planned and led by immigrants.

Oates said it will be interesting to see how A Day Without Immigrants affects the community going forward.

For now, she said she’s happy the protests shed light on an important part of the area’s population.

“I’m really pleased that this was organized because I think it really shows how many different areas really rely on the contributions of immigrants,” she said.


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