While some porches may still boast Halloween jack-o-lanterns, area retailers are preparing for the Christmas shopping season.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, American shoppers are expected to spend an average of more than $700 on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise this year.
The federation also forecasts that overall holiday retail sales will grow over last year’s receipts by nearly 3 percent, to nearly $466 billion.
Many local stores began hiring seasonal help a couple of months ago in preparation of the busy season.
Cris Willis, owner of Parsons, said the Christmas shopping season “makes the year” for most retailers.
“What happens in those four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can make or break your whole year,” she said. “If you don’t have a good four weeks there, your whole year can be ruined.”
The holidays are so important at Parsons, the Lakeland Plaza store offers its Christmas Shoppe from September to early January.
The shop is a connected area featuring wall-to-wall Christmas merchandise, including tree decorations, themed village pieces and collectibles.
Due to the importance of the season, Willis said she began adding staff in early fall.
“We’re still hiring, but we started hiring early because of the training,” she said. “We start in September and October so they’ll be totally ready for the November and December rush.”
Larry Wilkerson, manager of Kohl’s on Market Place Boulevard in Cumming, said his store also began the process early.
While it won’t take on “seasonal help” per se, he said he’s hired an additional 50 people over the past couple months in preparation for the season.
“But those people will continue to work for us after the holidays,” he said. “We don’t like to say ‘seasonal help’ because that implies they’ll be laid off after the season.”
Whether seasonal or longer term, recent hiring likely will have some impact on unemployment rates.
In September, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Forsyth County had a jobless rate of slightly less than 8 percent, one of the lowest statewide.
According to the report, only Forsyth and eight other counties had unemployment rates of less than 8 percent for the month.
Fifteen counties had rates between 8 and 9 percent, while 25 counties were between 9 and 10 percent.
The rate was higher than 10 percent in 110 Georgia counties.
The national rate for September was just above 9 percent.
“We have about one-and-a-half times as many employees now than we did three months ago,” Wilkerson said.
The store also has several employees that it calls on in a pinch.
“We have some college students who can only work at certain times of year,” Wilkerson said.
Willis said Parsons also has several workers in that category.
“We do have college students who come in the weekend of Thanksgiving and the couple of weeks around Christmas,” she added. “We also have a lot of teachers who work during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. We love teachers.”
At the height of the holiday shopping season, the store will have more staffers than any other time of year.
“In those last two weeks of December, we’ll have about double our normal staffing levels,” Willis said. “It’s by far the busiest time.”
Wilkerson noted there will be no shortage of hours for employees over the next two months.
“Associates work a lot of hours, depending on their availability throughout the holidays,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of work for everybody. I won’t have anybody asking for more hours in November and December.”
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