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Little help wanted

John Seelmeyer

Holly Evers is cautious as she tries to figure

how much extra staffing she’ll need during

the holidays at Gesture, the gifts and home

decor store she co-owns with Russ Schultz at

The Summit Sierra.

Rather than hire anyone extra for the busy

season, Evers thinks she’ll probably offer additional

hours to existing part-time employees

of the store.

“We’re trying to be as lean as possible

while still providing quality service,” she says.

Other retailers throughout the region

appear to be equally cautious about their seasonal

hiring this year as weak sales in recent

months and national financial turmoil bring

worries about holiday traffic.

While no one tracks the number of seasonal

workers hired during the holidays, statistics

developed by the State Department of

Employment, Training and Rehabilitation

show that the retail sector in Washoe County

has added 700 to 800 jobs during the holiday

season in recent years. Carson City retail

employment typically rises by about 100 during

the holidays.

The employment department doesn’t

expect to see that kind of growth this year.

“This is going to be a relatively weak holiday

season. That will translate into less robust holiday hiring that we’ve seen in the past,”

says William Anderson, chief economist for

the state agency.

Manpower Inc., the employment agency,

agrees.A recent survey by the company finds

retailers nationwide are more careful about

holiday hiring than any time in 17 years

and retailers in the West are even more skittish

than their brethren elsewhere in the

nation.

The reason? Weak sales.

Taxable sales in Washoe County during

the state’s fiscal year that ended June 30 were

down more than 5 percent from a year earlier

(Carson City was down more than 7 percent),

and the declines appear to be accelerating.

Indications that the decline is gathering

steam are particularly troublesome because

the holiday season typically makes up 20 percent

of retailers’ annual sales. For some stores

jewelers, for instance the percentage is

much higher yet.

But not every retailer is filled with foreboding.

The Cabela’s store in Reno, for instance,

hired 48 seasonal employees after an interviewing

session and expects to hire another

20 to 25 to carry the store through January,

says Cinda Heron, human resource manager

at the store.

(Cabela’s holiday rush in Reno continues

through the Safari Club International convention

in late January.)

“Our sales have continued to be good, and

we need the extra people to assure the legendary

customer service that Cabela’s is

known for,” says Heron. The store employs

about 280, compared with 262 when it

opened a year ago.

The slump in holiday hiring will especially

pinch young workers as a third of all retail

workers are younger than 24, the National

Retail Federation says.

Many of the young seasonal workers are

looking for money to pay for college expenses.

“Most of our students work,” says Pru

Jones, interim director of career development

at the University of Nevada, Reno.”And a lot

of students look for seasonal work.”

Demand for seasonal workers at ski

resorts remained strong during the pre-holiday

hiring season, Jones says, but retailers

and restaurants have been making fewer

recruiting visits to the campus.

The National Retail Federation projects

that holiday sales nationwide this year will be

about 2.2 percent ahead of last year’s figures.

That growth rate is only slightly less than the

2.4 percent increase posted by retailers when

they compared 2007 figures to 2006 sales.

But it’s still about half the 4.37 percent

average increase during the past decade.