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Stores hire more employees to handle holiday sales
150,900 jobs added to retail industry for seasonal hiring
Belk’s salesperson Rebecca Kyros, right, helps customer Sue Martin Tuesday. Kyros is part of a group of seasonal employees at the Lakeshore Mall store. - photo by Tom Reed

With a careful eye on holiday season shopping this weekend, local stores hired a modest number of seasonal employees in hopes that a small uptick in the economy will bring out more customers.

"The big anchor department stores were hiring, and we've got a new furniture store seeking help," said Kelly Monroe, marketing manager for Lakeshore Mall. "We also hired three permanent positions to staff our new customer service desk as we see more customers coming in."

At Lakeshore Mall, stores are prepping for after-Thanksgiving sales by pulling out tons of merchandise and putting up signs.

"We hired about 20 people for the holiday season, and we're pretty much set with gift wrappers and additional selling associates," said Lisa Lassiter, regional store manager for Belk. "The types of employees vary, but some wanted a second job or were unemployed."

On another corner of the mall, JC Penney hired 13 people for the holidays.

"We hired about the same number during the past couple of years to get the merchandise out," said store manager Paul Shires. "We've got everybody working, and we think it's going to be good. We're planning for one of the biggest shopping days this year."

As the holiday hiring season started in October, the retail industry added 150,900 jobs, according to an analysis released by the Chicago consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

That's more than the total for the previous two Octobers and the largest figure since 157,800 in 2004, according U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The seasonal hiring numbers don't reflect in the unchanged unemployment rate, which stand at 9.9 percent in Georgia, and long-term unemployment continues to increase. In October 2009, the rate was 10.2 percent.

Despite stagnant unemployment numbers, retail officials are hoping for higher retail sales this year. The National Retail Federation estimates sales will grow 2.3 percent to $447 billion, which is the largest increase since 2006.

According to the federation's 2010 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted in early October, consumers plan to spend an average of $688.87 on holiday-related shopping, a slight increase from last year's $681.83.

Preparing for the predicted increase in consumer spending, stores are opening earlier for Black Friday sales. Some retail stores, such as Old Navy on Dawsonville Highway, are giving preview deals on Thursday.

"We're trying to get everybody ahead of the game, and if a Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy cardholder comes in Thursday, they get all the same deals available on Friday," said Derrick Smith, district manager for Old Navy. "We've never done this before, and we're hoping customers are excited about beating the crowd and coming out to shop with the family."

Gainesville's Old Navy store stayed open on Thanksgiving for the first time last year, and Smith is excited to see the shopping atmosphere again this year.

"These customers really want to come out and be a part of the excitement and deals, and they tend to be patient and know there's going to be a line. But we're working as fast as we can," he said. "We see some regulars, but we also see some who just want to get in the mix of Black Friday."