Is there an Upper West Side Labor Shortage? The Signs Say Yes

If you know how to schmear, you could one day work here…

By Joy Bergmann

Upper West Siders often lament the plethora of empty storefronts in our neighborhood. But based on the bountiful “Help Wanted” signs in local store windows, it looks like businesses are facing another challenge too: Jobs going unfilled.

Seems we’re on trend with the rest of the USA.

A Labor Department report issued last week said that there is basically one job opening for each unemployed person in the country. But given each individual’s skills, schedule and salary requirements, not every position is finding its worker.

In a purely anecdotal, shoe-leather survey one recent morning, WSR spotted 17 stores with posters up seeking help. Here’s what a few managers had to say about the situation.

Modell’s Sporting Goods manager Jennifer Simmons is clear on her number-one hiring criterion. “Customer service! You have to give the customer a reason to come into your store because online shopping has taken over,” she says. “You’ve got to take care of the customer in order for them to want to come in. They no longer have to come in.” In her store at Amsterdam and 77th, she needs two or three all-around go-getters who can do stock, cashier and greet folks at the door. “You pretty much learn everything,” she says.

Claire’s manager Jessenia wants you to apply.

“I love it here,” enthuses Jessenia, a manager at Claire’s boutique at Broadway and 81st. She’s been with the company for almost six years. “I love the kids and the dialogue with customers. Plus, we [employees] can express ourselves – accessories, piercings, hair color. We have contests and theme weekends. It’s fun.” Her store’s been looking for two part-time sales associates and another manager for several months, but only a handful of applications have come through, she says.

“As a small business, I hire people who can manage everything – interact with people well, give top-quality customer service, speak on the phone, handle stock, check deliveries off the truck and love animals,” says Sophia Angelakis, owner of Pet Market on 72nd between Broadway and West End Avenue. Her help wanted sign has brought in two new hires, but she’s always looking for more staff for all three of her locations. “As long as they can work legally and that they like what they’re doing,” she says, “I don’t care about age or specific experience. It’s more about personality. Experience they learn here.”

PC Richards had several signs up.

“We’re always looking for great talent, in every position, because we’re planning on growing,” says Jason Birmingham, a manager at Maison Pickle at 84th and Broadway, one of three UWS restaurants owned by Pickle Hospitality. The group tends to post on Craigslist and Harri, a hospitality jobs website, rather than using placards, he said.

“I think we need another guy in deli, one in dairy and another cashier,” says Celestina at Broadway Farm market on Broadway and 85th, noting she’s only seen one person come in for the deli job since the poster went up a month ago. “A lot of people don’t want the night shift, or the evening times.”

At Face Values & Beyond on Broadway and 90th, manager Robert Petrarchi is looking for a few good associates. “We haven’t gotten too many applicants,” he says. The health & beauty superstore has openings for overnights, mornings and evenings. He welcomes anyone who’s 16 or older and, “Dependable, reliable and – most of all – available.”

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. Sean says:

      No one from this area works in these stores. They did 40 years Teens who actually lived on the UWS worked in the stores and restaurants here, as did many aspiring actors who lived here. Not any more! And the cost of the commute coupled with low wages and travel time doesn’t help.

    2. David says:

      Did Zabar’s fire a bunch of people? It looks like they are hiring for almost every department. Perhaps this requires further investigative reporting…

      And who is the counterculture-looking guy in the window of the Pet Market, and why is he there?

    3. uwsider says:

      do they pay a living wage? nothing about salary in the article.

    4. Daniel says:

      One day there will be a neighborhood better than the UWS, where prospective hard working employees of these positions will be able to live in the same neighborhood they work in. Not 15-20 miles away.

    5. dannyboy says:

      It is because workers can no longer afford the housing and living.

    6. Jay says:

      great post

    7. Brie Hoffman says:

      Do any of these jobs pay enough to live any where near the job site?

    8. J says:

      In addition to issue of long commutes due to cost of housing, a number of minimum wage retail jobs offer unreliable and unpredictable hours – for example staff only get their work/shift schedules a week ahead.
      Some employers will even send staff home if store is not busy.
      Night shifts mean no family life – and again, a long commute home late night poses additional issues – less reliable public transportation and dangerous in some neighborhoods

    9. life was better. says:

      Soon our neighborhoods will be gone. Store owners have been unable to pay increased rents, now there’s a shortage of help. Meanwhile, where can you go for a decent meal where you bump into your neighbors? Furrgedaboudit. It’s all young people and tourists eating cakes. The suburbs have come to the City. Sad.

      • Sean says:

        If Trump deports everyone, who is going to work in these stores? It won’t be the kids who live around here. Their parents wouldn’t allow it. It would give the appearance that the family isn’t doing well financially. Most of these newer bakeries don’t even bake on site.

      • My Kind of Town says:

        Awrrr…and Oy Vey
        The world is coming to an end…in SOME eyes!

        Re: “where can you go for a decent meal where you bump into your neighbors?

        LOTS of places, with a wide range of prices. Too many to list.

        Re: “The suburbs have come to the City.

        REALLY? So:

        WHERE ARE the Strip Malls choked with parked cars and featuring rows of tawdry chain stores?

        WHERE ARE the “classy” fast-casual places like Red Lobster, T.G.I. Friday’s, or Appleby’s?

        WHERE ARE the ugly housing developments with cookie-cutter vinyl-sided homes?

        WHERE ARE the overweight residents dressed as if they’re going to wash the dog, the car, or both?

        Thankfully, NOT on the UWS!

      • JeWhoSoFat says:

        yep, everyone is hailing the “new” way, Whole Foods and Trader Joe (and yeah, they’re good stores) but Mom and Pop’s like Mani and others are destroyed by them

        now we’re living in a giant Strip Mall called the Upper West Side Street.

    10. BillyNYC says:

      This has been going on for the past couple years and will increase…. The reason is that employers don’t want to pay more than the minimum wage… The rent is so high on the upper Westside employers cannot find local people. Unless employers pay for their transit and meals to and from their homes… These are the signs you’re going to see more of this. A perfect example: This past winter when we had a few big snowstorms and the city close down their transit system Zabar’s on 80th St. and Broadway didn’t even have enough help with-in the store for the entire day and all the managers and executive offices personnel and owners had to take part in the every day task of running the store departments because there normal daily staff cannot make it in to Manhattan from Queens and upper Bronx. Maybe Store owners may want to start hiring senior citizens living in the area????

    11. B.B. says:

      Retailers want employees that are motivated, have good work ethics and otherwise will be an asset. Those qualifications alone leave many off any potential new hire list.

      Then come the basics:

      Good math skills (at least high school level)with a proficiency in simple basics.

      Yes, today’s cash registers are largely computers; but clerks still need to know how to make change, count out their drawers at end of shift or if there is too much money taken, reconcile their “bank” and so forth. Again that lets out a good many potential applicants.

      Next comes finding persons without a criminal background, especially if they are going to be handling money. The city and state can enact all the “ban the box” laws they want; no retailer is going to hire someone with a criminal record if the job involves handling their money. That and of if their previous work history reveals “shortages” and or other issues.

      Next comes the requirements for a reasonable amount of social skills. If you don’t like people and or have an attitude problem, then obviously taking a job that requires you to be around them isn’t a good idea.

      First contact matters! We’ve all had experiences where we’ve gone into a store only to find a salesperson or whatever is not only disinterested but acts as if you are bothering or some how interfering with their “other” more important thing.

      Finally yes, the pay for these retail jobs often isn’t that great, minimum wage increases or not. IIRC PC Richards in some or all departments uses salary and commission compensation model. This could mean spending quite a lot of time at the store, but if you haven’t made any sales, that paycheck is going to be rather small.

    12. Joy Bergmann says:

      Regarding wages paid: I did ask several of the managers, and they did not want to provide figures to a reporter.

      Similarly, if you look online, many entry-level and assistant manager positions for chains do not specify the salary. Same as with many “BA-required” office positions. Which I’ve always found baffling for a “marketplace” of jobs – at any level.

      That said, you can safely assume starting wages in NYC retail to be from $13 to $17 an hour. Trader Joe’s posts their NYC “crew” wage as $15 to $20 an hour.

      Minimum wage currently in NYC is $12 an hour for businesses with 10 or fewer employees; $13 an hour for larger companies. It will rise to $13.50 and $15 at the end of 2018.

    13. Janice says:

      I’m sure it’s all about getting paid a living wage and health care. If you pay enough, you will get a line around the corner. The day of cheap day labor is over.
      We would all pay a few pennies more to have your help put food on their tables.

    14. Juan says:

      Perhaps if Ivy League schools would signal to HS kids that rolling up your sleeves and having a real job looks more impressive on an application than sharpening pencils at daddy’s hedge fund but claiming you were coming up with profound investment theses, high school kids would be willing to take some of these jobs, like they historically have. But most kids on the UWS now think they are too good for this kind of work.

      • Sean says:

        People on the UWS now wear sweatshirts announcing what good school they went and caps announcing what financial service they work for. Ten year olds wear t-shirts announcing wear they will be going to school. This sends a signal too.

    15. henry h. five says:

      This is no different from other parts of the city where people have to commute. Let’s face it, the UWS is a popular place where people want to live and work. Wages may or may not come up in order to meet the demand. Time will tell.

    16. Truth Speaker says:

      What about the people already living relatively close that are unemployed and doing nothing about it? Some would prefer a handout to actually earning a wage, regardless if it makes economic sense.

      I’d rather work for 30k a year than receive 30k a year in subsidies. Guess I am in the minority….

    17. Sherman says:

      Many of these jobs are handled by immigrants. Americans won’t do this kind of work. They’d rather go on public assistance.

    18. Marie Bissmann says:

      All these jobs pay between $10 & $12 per hr.,

      You can’t live at these rates

      • climbthatladder says:

        Back in my day minimum wage jobs weren’t intended to be long term career choices in which to support a family, but a stepping stone position that would enable you to gain experience and move up the ladder to more lucrative paying jobs. These positions were taken up by teenagers and young adults who needed experience as well as money. We got the job done and then moved on to something bigger. I flipped burgers for many a year and look at me now! I live on the UWS so I must have done something right along the way.

    19. Lei-Zee says:

      No mention of wages or benefits at all in this article. I’m no economist but maybe people don’t want shitty jobs that don’t allow them make ends meet.

    20. Eric says:

      Can’t wait for all the robots that will soon be doing these jobs and more…who wants to be a cashier anyway?!

    21. Wendy says:

      I showed this site to 2 ,alleged citizens; who were also looking for [social housing]. Most women citizen workers in U.S.A. do not have a union to protect us. Cashier may be the most oft job for citizen women in U.S.A, Use VITALITES. too much hideous music in some shops. FEW firms have day-care nurseries. Noise pollutions on both sies of me, now.

    22. jd says:

      Why work at these places when you can work at Whole foods, Trader joes, Costco, Starbucks. Better pay and benefits. Wait till Amazon takes over, we’ll all be working for them.