Local retailers hoping for uptick in holiday sales as they plan for seasonal hires

Although Christmas music isn’t yet playing in stores, retailers are already thinking about holiday hiring.

Local retailers are cautiously optimistic about holiday sales yet still wary in light of the potential for a government shutdown.

“Our representatives in Washington need to get this figured out and not shut the government down. It sends a bad message, and I don’t think, especially for any retailers who are creating jobs, it is a good thing for the upcoming holiday season,” said Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books and Cafe, 4701 E. Douglas.

Bagby said her store typically hires about three people to work the back end of the store, taking care of such things as delivery, the cash register and gift wrapping.

“We tailor our recommendations and sales to serve particular sensibilities – that uncle you don’t know what to get. We have to have all of our expert front-line booksellers on the floor and then hire for the back end,” she said.

Watermark, which has been in business since 1977, starts to get very busy the first two weeks of November, Bagby said, before business drops off and then picks up again with Small Business Saturday, which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year, it’s Nov. 30.

“Then it doesn’t slow down until it’s all over,” she said of the weeks before Christmas.

Nancy Robinson, owner of Best of Times Card and Gift Shop, 6452 E. Central, said she’s hopeful about the upcoming holidays.

With only 2,000 square feet of retail space, Robinson said, she hires a couple of extra people to help during the holidays.

“I think that people have been holding back since we had the big economic bust in this country, and I think they’re kind of starved to start spending their money again,” Robinson said. “I have an inkling that they’re being a little looser with their money lately, and that’s a good thing for the economy.”

Robinson said last year’s holiday sales were up from the year before, and this year looks promising also.

“Last weekend was the busiest we’ve had in a long time,” she said. “I’m hoping it’s an indication that this holiday season, people will spend a lot of money.”

Coming off a slower-than-expected back-to-school season, bigger retail chains are bracing for a tough holiday shopping period, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue.

Overall holiday hiring is expected to be relatively flat because of cautious consumer spending and uncertainty about the economic environment. Employer consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. estimates that overall seasonal hiring will not change significantly from last year's total, when hiring rose 14 percent to 751,800 positions between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

Also, the holiday shopping season will be a bit shorter this year, with Thanksgiving coming later in November than it did last year.

Wal-Mart, the country’s largest private employer, says it will hire about 55,000 seasonal workers and is elevating 70,000 more to part- or full-time positions for the season.

Target plans to hire about 70,000 seasonal workers, which is down about 20 percent from last year. The company says the move is to allow its permanent employees to get first dibs on working extra hours.

Kohl’s says it will likely hire more than 50,000 people for its 1,158 stores nationwide, as well as an additional 6,400 people at its distribution centers. It’s a slight increase over hiring last holiday season.

Meanwhile, Toys R Us says it plans to hire 45,000 seasonal workers, the same number as last year.

Contibuting: Associated Press