Charles E. Richardson

First-time job seekers are going to have a tough time

Every time the temperature turns cold in December I remember a time long ago before I was writing columns and editorials. As I watch people scampering around shopping for this and that, I pause and reflect on my days working in retail. My heart goes out to those who have had to bear up during this season as customers roll in and out, some not exhibiting the best of Christmas spirit.

My very first job was selling shoes at Rosenthal’s. It was there I learned that the customer was always right, even when they weren’t. Shoes tell a lot about a person. I’ve never looked at a pair of feet the same way since.

During the holidays I would also work as an overnight stock boy at Payless, a store that has long since disappeared. They would lock our crew of four in at 11 p.m. We would fill shelves that had been ransacked during the day by customers; set up displays and clean the aisles. To this day I take particular care to put things back on shelves where they belong.

My retail experience doesn’t end there. I also ran a home and garden section for one of the first big box stores, GEMCO. The chain has also gone the way of Christmases past. They were huge stores but the company wasn’t too big to fail.

I tell you all of this because this time of year is hard on anyone in retail. I’m more than 40 years removed from my experiences and customers were a lot nicer then. Nowadays these poor folks never know who’s walking into their stores. One thing is sure, more people aren’t walking in at all. They are letting their keyboards do their shopping.

I’m not going to get down on online shopping. Online is where I buy all of my books, music and electronic gadgets. It’s easy, convenient and pretty much hassle free, but there are drawbacks and we are seeing and hearing some of those negative notes in Macon and elsewhere in Middle Georgia.

Sears was and is having problems. Can you imagine the once mighty Sears, the Amazon of its day, closing stores all over the country? The Macon Sears has been gone for five years. J.C. Penny shut down in Macon earlier this year and when this holiday season is memory, Kmart and Target will say goodbye to Macon.

What does Warner Robins have that Macon doesn’t? Sears, Target and J.C. Penny.

You could see it coming. In 2013 Cyber Monday sales figures were $2.29 billion in the U.S. This year, according to Adobe, which tracks holiday online spending for the country’s largest retailers, Cyber Monday sales were $6.59 billion, and are forecast for the entire holiday season to be above $100 billion.

What does that mean locally? First, fewer jobs are available in the retail sector. Those seeking their first job won’t be selling a lot of shoes when stores that sell them are inside their nearest computer, smartphone or tablet.

Tax money to support the local economy is also disappearing. Many Middle Georgia communities rely on special purpose local option sales tax measures. They will need to revise collection estimates downward, if they haven’t already (Macon-Bibb County factored in lower collection rates by not limiting the collection period of its next SPLOST to the traditional five years). Sales tax collection also impacts school systems that have an E-LOST.

It is for that reason we will see several new tax vehicles floated next year O-LOST, T-SPLOST) as revenues from retail sales continue to decline. And there is another distinct possibility and not a new idea: Internet sales taxes.

I fret for the teenagers looking for work. They’ll have to settle for something other than retail. Any first job is good, but retail is an excellent training ground for developing interpersonal skills and other lessons that will carry them for a lifetime. It also forces them to talk to people rather than that glowing orb that seems permanently attached to their hands.

There are still entry-level jobs out there. Nobody’s figured out how to totally automate everything, but let me ask Siri or Alexa, if anybody’s working on it.