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Economic flashback is on Target
Number of job-seekers shows we’re in tough times


May 30, 2009

I drove by Carroll College (I mean University) this week, saw the Target "job fair" promotions all over the place, and had a flashback.

It was 1981 or 1982 and the economy was in the tank. A Cousins Subs shop was opening at that strip mall at Sunset Drive and East Avenue. (The one with Little Caesar’s and Gordy’s barber shop.)

I was a teenager - a very poor teenager who had foolishly quit a job at Boy Blue on Hartwell. (The Boy Blue is now a gyros place. If you’re a true Waukeshan, you know what every current business "used to" be, and you bring that information into your present-day descriptions. For example: "I’m going to get a gyro at that place that used to be Boy Blue.")

Anyway, where was I ... Oh yeah, I needed a job and a Cousins was opening, and it was so long ago I had never even eaten at a Cousins.

The restaurant was being built, so all Cousins job-seekers had to apply at the Holiday Inn. I went there and people were lined up out the door. I didn’t get a job, or even an interview. When I later went to Cousins (apparently I found money to eat there) the workers were all "old people."

This was one of my first economic lessons: When the economy is in the tank, "the man" will always hire "older people" (those in their late 20s and older) instead of teens. This is done because teens usually (but not always) are horrible employees who fall into the category of (a) delinquents who are "truant" from work or (b) conscientious workers who ask off for three honors society events per week. Either way, the manager needs to find someone to work.

So when I visited that Cousins and ate my very first cheese steak, I saw how the crappy economy had kicked the "old people" in the teeth. Then those old people in turn had stolen what should have been my job. Of course that wouldn’t have been a concern had I not been a horrible teen employee and quit Boy Blue. (What made me a bad employee? It wasn’t missing work for honors society meetings.)

That was more than 25 years ago. In the years between, teens would walk into fast food restaurants and have jobs thrust upon them. There were times when jobs couldn’t be filled.

Of course, that’s changed. Now the economy is back in the tank (sure, we’ll be out of this in six months; just keep convincing yourself) and the jobs are tough to come by again.

Which brings us to the Target job fair. The new Target store on Sunset Drive is opening in July, and the place is hiring as many as 200 new employees.

This led Target to hold a "job fair," which is a fancy way of saying they took applications.

Jen Becker will be the manager of the new store on Sunset Drive. This is her third store opening, and she’s reopened a few remodeled versions, too.

Becker is no stranger to sorting through hundreds of applications.

The previous store openings were as long as five years ago. So I asked what these applicants were like compared to a few years back.

"A lot of folks are looking for full-time," she said. Many applications are handled online. That means it’s harder to get a handle on the number of applications - and it’s harder for a guy like me to walk in and see a line snaking around the place.

But Becker said it’s "more than we would average" during a booming economy, obviously, and more qualified workers have applied. Many applicants were "making a lot more money" somewhere else before applying at Target, Becker said.

So, to the surprise of no one, it’s 1981 again. Alas.


Becker had some interesting things to say about the new Target. Please, letme  share them with you:

* The store will feature groceries. My wife has always been pushing this, saying, "If they just sold milk." Now, they will sell milk and a lot more.

The Target will be next to a new Pick ‘n Save, which will be down the road from the existing Pick ‘n Save. Go the other way on the road and you’ll hit a Sentry, so you might have a hard time driving through the area without encountering groceries.

But Target has a strategy. "We’ll be on the one-stop shop," Becker said.

It will offer more than just milk. "I buy 75 percent of my groceries from Target," Becker said. If you need some weird groceries, you might be out of luck. But if you "need milk and dinner for the next five nights, you’re set," she said.

* The new store will also feature a photo lab, a Pizza Hut, a Starbucks and a pharmacy.

* The new store is a prototype that has been tested, successfully, in other places. It will be the first in the greater Milwaukee metro area.

* The store will continue to have ties with Carroll beyond the job fair. Carroll caterers will handle some opening events. In addition, the store will offer shuttles from Carroll to Target on days students move into dorms.

* This new Target is a big enough deal that the company’s annual meeting was held there Thursday. The meeting typically is held at a new store, and the Waukesha location was chosen because of its new look and features. It also didn’t hurt that Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel is from the area, and a Carroll College graduate.

(Longtime Waukesha resident Pete Kennedy is a former Freeman editor. His column runs Saturdays in The Freeman. Reach him at




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