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With her 21 years of retail sales experience, Geralyn Ward has a strategy for helping frazzled customers shopping for Christmas presents at Gottschalks in the Mendenhall Center.
"I assess the needs first, then go from there," she said. "I usually ask questions first - their age and the price they want to spend. When someone's wanting your help, they're usually pretty open."
Ward said she loves working retail and missed the department store where she worked in Mt. Vernon, Wash., before moving to Juneau last year. Her boss, Deborah Oleman, general manager of Gottschalks, hires additional workers every holiday season, and especially appreciates those with retail experience. Placing Ward with the sportswear department of the store was advantageous to both women.
Ward is one of 10 to 15 people Gottschalks has hired this Christmas season to deal with the usual increase in business this time of year, Oleman said. Working during the holidays can be a way for Juneau residents to earn extra money for Christmas presents, enjoy employee discounts, make use of free time during Christmas break from high school or college, or get a foot in the door for a permanent job.
Ward plans to use the money she earns this season at Gottschalks to buy presents, treat her daughter and stepdaughter to something special when the family is together for the holidays, and pay for her and her husband's wedding anniversary celebration in January, she said. The job is not all about money, though, or the 15 percent discount given to Gottschalks employees.
"I like the people," she said. "I love clothing and merchandising, seeing the new stock come in, putting outfits together for people when they want help. And the other employees are a lot of fun."
Having fun is part of what working during the holiday season is all about. Debbie Saddler, store director for Super Kmart, said she tries to make holiday hiring a win-win situation.
"We try to have fun; we really do," said Saddler.
In addition to offering a 10 percent employee discount, Kmart hosted an employee banquet last week, and will provide a prime rib dinner to employees who work on Christmas Day, when the store will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The meal, combined with a monetary incentive, is enticing enough to Kmart employees that Saddler won't have to force anybody to work on Dec. 25.
She's hired six to 12 additional cashiers to handle the extra holiday business, and hopes to keep most of them employed after the holidays.
"Some people come in and want to be a cashier on the weekend to make some money for Christmas only, so we try to accommodate them," she said. "But we've been very cautious about what we're doing so we don't have to lay people off."
Saddler began hiring employees for the Christmas season in September, when the store started receiving seasonal merchandise. Soon after the holidays, the store will begin to display garden and outdoor living equipment, providing work past the holiday season.
Finding employees for the holidays wasn't a problem for Oleman or Saddler, they said.
"We haven't had to advertise," Oleman said. "Since we moved to this mall, we get so many people who want to work here that we don't have to advertise (for employees) anymore."
Kmart has had many walk-in applicants as well, Saddler said. For more technical positions, such as in the meat and food preparation departments and in the photo shop, Kmart works with the state-run Juneau Job Center.
"They're a great partner," Saddler said. "They do pre-interviewing and pre-qualifying for us, and match up people with skills with the right jobs."
The Juneau Job Center has done less recruitment for holiday positions this year than it has in previous years, said Michael Hutchinson, manager of the center.
"What's happened this year is a little different than typically what's happened in the past," Hutchinson said. "Instead of that mad rush that we would get in early or mid-October, employers brought on part-time employees at the end of the summer and tried to keep them on and extend hours in the holiday season."
To deal with holiday business, some smaller stores in Juneau, such as Hearthside Books and Western Auto, rely on students returning to work part-time during the holidays or current part-time workers extending their hours.
"We don't hire seasonal help per se, but we hire back people who have worked here before," said Debbie Reifenstein, an owner of Hearthside Books.
John Weedman, general manager of Western Auto, said some of his high-school-age employees will work more hours over their winter break.
Susan's Sutton, owner of Susan's Hallmark in the Nugget Mall, has two additional seasonal workers for Christmas, both of whom have worked previous holiday seasons at the store.
"It means a lot to me because it means I didn't have to train anybody," Sutton said. "It just worked out."