October 6, 2013

Local retailers cautious about hiring for holidays

Some local retailers have already pulled out the holiday merchandise, but just how much season hiring they’ll do remains unclear because of uncertainty about economy.

Some local retailers have already pulled out the holiday merchandise, and that usually means more jobs — at least through the busy holiday shopping season.

But this year it’s unclear just how much seasonal hiring will occur because businesses remain concerned about the still-sluggish economy. So those who want to land a seasonal job better apply early — and often.

Large retail stores such as Target and Kohl’s declined comment about holiday hiring but listed multiple part-time seasonal sales jobs on their websites and other Internet job sites. A manager for Sears at the Merced Mall confirmed the retail giant would hire more workers but would not disclose how many.

Smaller stores in Merced, however, aren’t as optimistic about the upcoming holiday season.

“They’re predicting the holidays aren’t going to be good,” said Richard Peraino, general manager of Peraino's Jewelers & Gift Emporium.

The small business inside the Bear Creek Galleria has been open since 1983 and is mostly staffed by family.

“We hope there is a spike in sales, but we just don’t know. We are just going to play it by ear,” Peraino added.

On the other side of town, the Walgreens store on R Street faces similar challenges and uncertainty.

“As far as right now, we are not bringing any other help,” said shift leader Elise Sardina. “Last year, we brought in three extra people.”

Those positions became permanent, Sardina said, which is why the retailer isn’t going to bring on more employees this year. A flood of last-minute shoppers pour in each year because the store extends its hours during the holiday season, even staying open on Christmas Day, Sardina said.

The analytical firm ShopperTrak forecasts a 2.4 percent increase in holiday retail sales in November and December, a slower pace than last year’s 3 percent sales gain.

Shopper traffic is projected to fall 1.4 percent this year compared with last year’s 2.5 percent increase, ShopperTrak said.

Frank Quintero, Merced’s economic development director, said retailers anticipate more Internet shopping this year, which could also affect hiring.

“The trend nationally is that retailers are being cautious, so we’re anticipating hiring levels to be pretty much the same as last year,” Quintero said. “The main thing that we want to get out for the holiday season is that our community shop locally, and that does help job growth.”

A store known for its alternative style and unique items is defying the cautious hiring trend.

Hot Topic in the Merced Mall is hiring multiple associates for seasonal help, and they are looking for people of all backgrounds.

“We usually get a healthy pool of applicants and we’ll probably have 20 to 25 interviews,” said assistant manager Trevor Degn, adding that interviews begin next week.

Degn said the seasonal jobs run until the end of January, but some employees are offered permanent positions. Last year, the store kept two employees from a group of five seasonal workers.

“Usually we end up keeping one or two of the best associates,” Degn said.

No experience is necessary because the store provides training, but an interest in pop culture – current trends in movies and music – is essential.

“You hit the ground running,” Degn said. “The mall gets crazy around Christmastime, and you have to be able to hustle and move quickly. I’m expecting it to be a lot busier than last year.”

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