While some mall retailers flagged down shoppers the day after Thanksgiving to convince them to work over the holiday season, stores in downtown and south Berkeley reported that they had already hired for the Christmas season.
“Finding people is not a problem,” said Kevin Hemmerich, assistant manager of Bath and Body Works. “We receive applications constantly.”
The 4.7 percent unemployment rate in California — lower than a year ago — has not been a problem in Berkeley.
The bath store on Telegraph and Bancroft avenues hired 15 sales people to join the eight who fill the shifts the rest of the year. Now the only thing missing, a worried Hemmerich said, is the increased flow of customers that will justify the cost.
However, over on Fourth Street, kitchen specialty store Sur la Table has already received a heavy increase of shoppers before Thanksgiving. Sur la Table management expects those numbers to continue to rise. The store’s holiday hiring — a 50 percent increase from its regular staff — is almost done, said Assistant Manager Richard Chapman.
“It wasn't as hard as I expected,” Chapman said, adding that it was much harder hiring employees at his former San Francisco restaurant job.
But managers agreed that Christmas is a hard time to recruit because students leave for the holidays and stores must depend on local residents. Nevertheless, they have found a labor force willing to work for a few weeks — high school students.
“We mostly hire people who want to make a little extra money over the holiday,” said Elf Fuller, manager of Berkeley Games on the corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue.
Already this year, Fuller has hired three high school students who will mainly wrap presents and stock shelves.
Most stores were able to hire extra help without offering special incentives aside from the usual employee discounts. But some stores offered additional discounts. Bath and Body Works, for example, added a small percentage to the 30 percent employee discount every time an employee brought in an applicant who was hired.
Some Berkeley stores, however, lagged in hiring. Rasputin, a Telegraph Avenue music store, had little luck finding employees. “I'm still looking for people. You want a job?” asked floor manager Dennis Bishop, amidst holiday workers he did employ ringing up compact disc’s and helping customers.
And hose who do take the job may land a full-time job offer after the holiday shopping madness ends.
Games of Berkeley, for example, reviews all of its employees on January 1 and if their performance is better than permanent employees, Fuller said they may replace them.
“Sounds a little harsh, but it seems to get the best out of everyone during the holiday season,” said Fuller.