A sleepy black-and-white dog stretched out in the doorway of Orvis-Hunting Creek Outfitters on North Market Street Tuesday afternoon, lazily watching passersby stroll past.
Through half-open eyes, she watched as people occasionally paused to read the message scrawled in all-caps on the small chalkboard standing in front of her:
“COME WORK HERE!”
Maizey’s favorite storefront napping spot is hiring — and it’s not the only one in downtown Frederick. In an effort to connect small businesses looking to flesh out their staff with people looking for work, the Downtown Frederick Partnership hosted a jobs fair Tuesday afternoon.
“A lot of our small businesses, both restaurant, retail and service industry, are really seeking help right now,” said Leeann Crews, marketing and promotion manager for the Downtown Frederick Partnership. “They’re all really looking to grow their employees and get some new talent on their teams.”
Tuesday’s jobs fair is the first the partnership is hosting downtown, “so hopefully it works,” Crews added with a smile.
Currently, 33 businesses in the downtown area are hiring. In typical times, Crews said, the partnership would only have about 10 to 15 openings to promote on its jobs board. But as the economy opens back up and life eases into a new sort of normal, a staffing squeeze has swept the nation, prompting business owners to dig into their pockets to offer hiring bonuses and other incentives in an effort to attract prospective employees.
On Tuesday, 21 restaurants, shops and salons located in the heart of Frederick posted signs in their windows to signal they were participating in the event. Applicants such as 17-year-old Tori Smith, who was looking for a full-time job, and Briana Tulenko, who hoped to land a spot as a hostess, walked downtown, chatting with store managers and sharing their resumes.
The idea for the fair came from Kolby Cregger, who manages Taco Daddy and the soon-to-open Coco Cabana on North Market Street. He needs hosts, bussers, food-runners and a couple of servers for Taco Daddy, and new staff for Coco Cabana — 55 people for the front of the house and about 15 in the back.
“I know, as a manager, I don’t necessarily have the time to go out and take myself away from the restaurant to do interviews, and I know a lot of other managers probably feel the same way,” he said. “If you already know, from this time to this time, anyone can come in and apply, have an interview, that cuts the time and the process for hiring almost in half.”
Cregger knows a lot of people in the downtown area who have been having a hard time finding work, and he also knows a lot of places that have been having a hard time finding people to work. He figured, why not bring the two of them together?
He stressed that he doesn’t blame the enhanced unemployment benefits passed during the pandemic for why so many businesses have been having a hard time filling positions.
“A lot of people went back to school. A lot of the people who were told for years to get a real job, to get a better paying job, well, they went out and did that,” he said. “Just blaming unemployment for the lack of employees is just a cop-out, in my opinion. Because there’s so much more to it than that.”
Back at Orvis-Hunting Creek Outfitters, Murray Friedman, a partner in the business, said he’s always looking for fresh faces on his staff and has never had much trouble finding new employees. He’s had luck attracting workers over social media, through word of mouth and by sticking “help wanted” signs in his window.
Still, he agreed the pandemic has affected the labor market “considerably.”
“There’s a lot of people, I think, who don’t want to work,” he said, “whether it’s because they’re not comfortable coming out in a pandemic or because they’re making money at home between stimulus checks and unemployment checks.”
Cody Marwine, the owner of Perfect Truffle on North Market Street, decided to participate in Tuesday’s jobs fair in hope of finding someone to work as a front-of-house manager for his shop. Though he’s gone back and forth between the type of role he’d like to fill at the Perfect Truffle, he’s been looking for a new employee since about April, he said.
He may have been in luck. At that moment, someone walked through the door and announced he was “a job fair person seeking information.”
“Wonderful!” Marwine exclaimed.