The Lumberjill: Inflation is only fun in pool toys

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

“That seems like a lot of money to prune some trees,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said. Because he was.

Guess what: Inflation sucks.

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

You know what else sucks? Let me enumerate the suckage:

• War and all its attendant evils, higher fuel prices being by far the lowest on the totem pole but also the most directly felt at 5,000 miles’ remove. 

• Living in a town that’s been “discovered.” Discovered not so much in the way that penicillin was discovered and saved millions, but more in the way that the New World was discovered and then efficiently annihilated and rebuilt in service to the Old World.

• The ever-expanding wealth gap, wherein the bottom 50% of earners own but 1% of the wealth pie. 1%. Seriously. Half of us are quibbling over a crust crumb. Wealth inequality is also age-related, with householders over 60 possessing 12 times as much wealth as younger families. With so many retirees moving and buying here, with that influx increasing home prices on the daily, well… Thanks, Boomer, say the young families. 

• The so-called housing shortage, which, as I’ve mentioned before, may not be so much a shortage as a poor allocation of housing resources. Take a tour of Lakeshore Drive or Bottle Bay Road. Count all the darkened windows and empty driveways. Picture your six friends who are currently crammed into a two-bedroom. Picture them spaciously spread out in one of the darkened homes instead. Think of all those darkened homes. Discuss.

• My daughter’s favorite soup just jumped to $5 a can. Five dollars for some tiny pasta stars constellating in a tomato-based sky. Five dollars for 200 calories that will immediately get burned climbing the school’s tree. WTF. Inflation is what.

Let me acknowledge that there are many other things that suck in this world — violence in action and word, climate change, poverty and hunger, authoritarian rule — but the scope of this article is limited. The scope of this article pertains to the costs related to tree pruning and why a former customer now finds our pricing problematic.

As a small business owner, I’m witnessing a new imbalance in our balance sheet. That teeter-totter of earnings and expenditures now has a teenage bully on the expense side. That kid should probably have a job, but he’s instead hanging out on the little kids’ playground, terrorizing the lightweights with his heaviness. I feel like I’m the little kid stranded on the upward end of the teeter-totter. I feel like I’m trying to build a ladder made of tree work and faith.

I desperately want to be fair with our prices. And I think I am, but fairness operates by new rules this year. Fairness has to be measured against the $200 we now put in the fuel tank multiple times a week — the fuel tank in one of our trucks. We have three work trucks. We also have a chipper and a quiver of thirsty chainsaws. I feel like confetti should rain down on us occasionally at the Schweitzer Conoco to celebrate our dedication and service to its pumps.

We also hired two new employees who are in need of housing. If they can’t find housing, we won’t have employees. They currently can’t find housing. If they do find housing, most of their paycheck will go to said housing. We are paying entry-level employees $8 more an hour today than we did just three years ago, and that increase still doesn’t stretch to meet the needs of Sandpoint’s housing market.

Let me tell you about Sandpoint’s housing market. One of our employees is planning to camp out Upper Pack for the duration of the summer. For real. Another of our employees has been searching for housing for a month, but to no avail. Her best option thus far was a place under renovation, offering no water or septic. Even that fell through. The place with no place to poop got scooped out from under her. There is nothing affordable available, and I can’t pay an entry-level employee more than I already do.

Another story about Sandpoint’s housing market: Dear friends of ours have been renting in south Sandpoint for six years. She grew up in the area. He is a school teacher. They have four kids. In October, their rent will more than double. Did you see that? More. Than. Double. Will a family with deep roots here have to sever those roots? I hope not, but perhaps.

This is the story of living in Sandpoint. Thus, it is also the story of employing people in Sandpoint. Housing is the black hole into which I could pour nearly limitless funds and still not make it tenable for my workers. 

This is the story of living in Sandpoint.

This is the story of employing in Sandpoint.

And now, this is the story of raising prices in Sandpoint.

Our diesel costs more, our employees cost more, the basic goods and services supporting our business cost more. In the past month, I’ve received multiple emails from vendors alerting me to the increased prices of their offerings. Those prices were passed on to them, are passed on to me, will be passed on to you. Ad infinitum. 

According to a recent report, 89% of small businesses have raised their prices by 15% or more in response to inflation. We’re a part of that trend. Sadly. But necessarily. What else is there to do?

I entered this work season with a strong desire to operate from a place of generosity. We’ve had a good few years. I want to be attentive to the community that has supported the growth of our business and the well-being of our family. I want to be accommodating. I want to be kind. I want to give back. And then I look at the business expenses on our credit card, compare that number to the one in our bank account, and the margin doesn’t leave much room for generosity. The margin gives rise to generosity’s inverse: fear. 

I do my best to price jobs not from a place of fear but a place of fairness. However, I can’t help but price jobs from the place that is the real world — that is Sandpoint — where inflation meets a destination town, tugging mightily on everyone’s bottom line.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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