Hundreds job-shop at Walt Whitman mall fair

Job seekers fill out applications at the Coach

Job seekers fill out applications at the Coach table while attending the job fair held at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station Wednesday morning. (Oct. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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A job fair at the Walt Whitman mall in Huntington Station attracted a broad range of job seekers Wednesday, hoping to grab one of about 500 permanent and seasonal positions mall businesses are trying to fill.

More than 40 retailers and restaurants took part in the hiring event, which drew about 350 to 400 attendees, a mall official estimated. The available jobs ran the gamut from sales associate positions to managerial posts.

And the job applicants had varied motivations, with some seeking to end a long period of unemployment and others looking to find new skills or supplement their income.

"I'm looking for whatever I can get, because it's tough out there," said Richard Simon, 47, a construction worker from Mastic. The local housing market is making a gradual recovery, although it still lags the national rebound in home prices.

A steady retail job that's seasonal or permanent could supplement Simon's construction pay. "It stinks to be working 10 months and then laid off for two months," he said.

Walt Whitman Shops, as the mall is now called, has undergone an expansion and makeover that is nearing completion and has added a number of new stores and restaurants. Last year Suffolk County approved $3 million in tax breaks for the mall's owner, Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, in exchange for the $40-million investment in the expansion project and the creation of 165 new jobs over two years.

For those looking for employment, the hiring event was an opportunity in a slow-growing job market.

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James Lowenthal, 22, of Northport, and his friend and co-worker Teddy Kooman, 22, also of Northport, were interested in positions at the Microsoft store and Sony to balance out their work as commercial divers cleaning the undersides of boats. They both said they love their diving jobs but the work is seasonal, ending during the late fall and winter months.

"For me, this is the perfect balance," Lowenthal said. "Winter is holiday retail time."

The diverse situations of job seekers at the mall's hiring event is not surprising, said economist Gregory DeFreitas, director of Hofstra University's labor studies program, because the retail sector has led the labor market's recovery from the recession.

"Because job growth focused on mainly low-wage sectors like services and retail, that makes it much harder for people -- even if they have a full-time service job -- to claw their way back to a middle-income lifestyle," he said. "So people are grabbing whatever jobs they can get."

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