Stores prepare for seasonal onslaught

bmilazzo@centredaily.comOctober 31, 2013 

Holiday1

Pedestrians walk along South Allen Street in downtown State College on Wednesday. Some downtown businesses see a rise in sales during the holiday season and have to hire more employees.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

The holidays aren’t here quite yet, but for many Centre Region retailers, they are at the forefront of their minds.

Stores are hiring to keep up with the holiday business spike that begins this month. During October, November and December, statistics from the state Department of Labor and Industry show, there is a decrease in unemployment in Centre County for seasonal work before it pops back up in January.

On average, Abercrombie & Fitch, the casual-wear retail chain in downtown State College, has between 40 and 50 employees. Between mid-October and the end of December, the store almost doubles its staff, said manager Alaina Henderson.

“Anyone we interview and hire between Oct. 15 and Dec. 31, we have to tell them in the interview process that this is a seasonal thing, and that after December we can no longer afford to keep them on staff,” Henderson said.

She added that some seasonal employees who exceed expectations could be asked to stay longer.

Abercrombie’s target is teenagers and college students, Henderson said.

But even when Penn State students go on winter break, Henderson added that business remains up during the month, as more of the general public patronizes the store.

Target and Kohl’s, national department stores with a local presence, each said in statements that they plan to hire thousands of seasonal workers nationwide. Target said there will be about 70,000 additional workers, while Kohl’s said there will be about 50,000 — an average of 40 Kohl’s associates per store, including the one in Patton Township.

Drew Fogel, assistant manager and team leader of human resources at Target on Colonnade Boulevard, didn’t have an exact number the store was hiring this holiday season, but he said seasonal hiring already has begun.

“Naturally, we’re always thinking about ways to keep the holiday shopping crowd organized,” Fogel said.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, begins the holiday rush for the local Target, Fogel said.

For Plato’s Closet on North Atherton Street, owner Justin Baker said his store might not be hiring additional employees, but sales swing in a different fashion.

“We’re in a different scenario,” Baker said. “We don’t get a huge rush, but we’ll sell more things like gift cards and see business in a different way.”

Plato’s Closet is a national chain that buys and sells used clothing for teens and young adults.

“I think Christmas is one of those times where people want to get new stuff, so we don’t get that sort of thing as much,” Baker said.

As the economy continues to bounce back from the recession, Steven Zellers, a labor market analyst that monitors central Pennsylvania, said that in terms of hiring and sales, this year locally should be better than last year.

“The national and state economy has been improving, and Centre County has been following that trend,” he said. “We were not impacted as much from the recession like other parts of the state and would expect at least good to better performance this holiday season.”

Last year in Centre County, unemployment rates in October, November and December were 5.9 percent, down from 6 percent in September. In January, unemployment rates increased to 6.1 percent, Zellers said.

The same trend happened the year before. Zellers said that in August and September 2011, unemployment in Centre County was at 5.8 percent. In October, it decreased to 5.7 percent, followed by 5.6 percent and 5.5 percent in November and December, respectively.

“If historical patterns hold true, then we should see a good turnout this year. There’s no evidence that this year should be any different. If anything, we’re foreseeing that it looks better than it has in the past,” Zellers said. “Centre County reaps the benefits of a good economy because of Penn State.”

When people are employed, they are more inclined to spend, Zellers said, “especially around the holidays.”

And when more people are out spending and creating business, the more businesses are inclined to hire additional staffers to keep up with the chaos.

“It’s kind of like the circle of the economy,” Zellers said. “When business is good, so is everything else.”

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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