Jobs in East Hampton area are scarce

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Ever since East Hampton accountant Ira Stollar put an ad in the classified section of a local newspaper for a companion for his 85-year-old mother a couple of weeks ago, his phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

Professionals from all kinds of industries answered the ad, from real estate brokers and teachers to a personal trainer and certified caregivers. More than 50 people had called looking for work and as of Monday, December 22, his phone was still ringing.

“It’s the economy,” he said, still stunned at the number of responses. “People are just desperately looking for jobs.”

Many other people who have placed ads in the help wanted sections of The East Hampton Press, The Southampton Press and the East Hampton Star in recent weeks say they’ve been inundated with responses. Jobs are few and far between in the East Hampton area and beyond, according to interviews with job seekers and employers.

“It’s scary out there, I think, for everyone, no matter what your business happens to be,” said Noel Hare, owner of Herricks Hardware in Southampton. He put an ad in 27east.com, the East Hampton Press and Southampton Press’s website, for a store clerk several weeks ago; instead of the five to 10 responses he expected, he got 35 or more. “The responses were from every kind of background—sales management, construction, retail, managers of small businesses. I think most people are cutting staffs back and I would suspect I was seeing people who have lost their jobs.”

Caitlin Barbour, classified manager for The Press Newspaper Group, which owns The East Hampton Press, The Southampton Press, The Press of Manorville and Moriches, and 27east.com, said that the “Help Wanted” section of classified ads always drops off after Labor Day—but this year the supply of off-season jobs has fallen even more noticeably.

“Help Wanted has always been one of our largest classified sections and now it’s barely there,” she said. “One of the main things I’ve noticed is that the jobs that are being posted are either for specialists or require candidates to be very experienced in many different things. That means, for instance, that it’s hard to find your basic office assistant job anymore. Now, in order to be qualified, you need to have experience in accounting, bookkeeping, sales, and so on, in addition to the standard phones, filing, customer service duties.”

“Employers seem to be consolidating a lot of job duties to keep the payroll down,” she continued. “So now that office assistant is also the bookkeeper, and sales rep, whereas before those would have been three separate jobs.”

In The East Hampton Press in August, there were 292 help wanted classified ads. In the first three weeks of December, there were 92. On Sunday, December 21 on the 27east.com site, there were only four ads under the “office and professional” listing for the East Hampton area.

Rosemarie, who wouldn’t give her last name, of Island Group Administration, which is a third-party health insurance claims processor in East Hampton, recently advertised for an administrative assistant and a plan manager and got four dozen responses for both jobs. “This is the best response we’ve ever gotten from an ad. And it’s a powerful response because of the economy. People have gotten laid off,” she said.

One real estate agent from East Hampton, who asked that her name not be used, said she had been on many interviews for administrative assistant jobs and always gets the same response: “We have too many people who are coming in who are overqualified,” she quoted employers as saying.

The realtor said she was keeping her real estate license current, but that there are just not many houses selling right now. “I’m nervous about having real estate being my main source of income and I may get out of it entirely at some point. To tell you the truth, I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The Retreat, an abused women’s shelter in East Hampton, is looking for both a shelter director and an executive director and it has received more than 50 responses for both jobs, many of them from local people, according to Richard Demato, president of the Retreat’s board of directors. “A large part of the resumes are not applicable to the jobs,” he said. “It’s surprising to get applications from people who have not had a lot of experience with this type of work. We must have had four or five attorneys apply. It’s just been a big mix of applicants. There’s a very large group of people who have the drive and passion to look for work.” Mr. Demato said The Retreat is still in the interviewing process and has not yet hired anyone.

The Eileen Fisher clothing store on Newtown Lane hasn’t advertised for help—it doesn’t need any right now with the three full-time and two part-time sales people it has. “But a lot of people are coming in off the street looking for part-time and full-time work,” said Jacquie Gettling, assistant manager. She noted that Talbot’s retail store in Bridgehampton is closings its doors at the end of the year and its salespeople will be out of work. A spokesman for Talbot’s corporate office confirmed that the store is closing at the end of the quarter.

Some stores reported that they are getting only the usual number of inquiries for what is the slow time year here—January through March. A store manager at Kmart who declined to be identified said the store is getting the usual number of applications, though he added that no positions were currently available.

David Dempsey, chief operating officer for Hildreth’s Department Store, with stores in Southampton and East Hampton, also said he is not getting an unusually high number of applicants.

But far more employers interviewed said they were getting overwhelming responses to ads.

At Whitmore Gardens and Whitmore Landscaping in East Hampton, an ad placed in November for a retail store manager and a landscaping foreman yielded 40 to 50 responses, many of them from people without much experience in either retail or landscaping, but with lots of experience in other types of work, said Chini Whitmore, manager.

“I’m guessing that from the kind of responses we’re getting, a lot of people have been laid off from other jobs,” she said. “I attribute it to the downturn of the economy.” So far, she hasn’t yet filled the two jobs.

Eva Growney, of Eva Growney Architects and Associates of Amagansett, advertised for Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) draftsmen for detail-oriented construction documents and got 15 responses. “That is a huge response for us. It’s a high number for this kind of business,” she said. Several architects have laid off workers in the East Hampton and Southampton area, she said, and there are a lot of people looking for jobs with other architects, she said.

Job-seekers of all kinds say they are working full-time to find work.

Lorna Tobin, a fitness specialist who lives in Sag Harbor, has been looking for a job in the gym business, catering, administrative assistant positions, helping the elderly and any other kind of jobs she can think of since September. She has a few personal training clients to tide her over for now, but she is discouraged at the lack of jobs she finds listed in the classified sections of the local newspapers.

“It has been the most frustrating experience,” she said. “When I look in the paper, there’s just a handful of jobs—that must be related to the economy.” She spends part of her time in the library using the computers there to search the internet for jobs. She is also looking further west of the Hamptons and is considering relocating rather than commuting a long distance for a job.

Barbara Kestler, a domestic worker formerly of Sag Harbor, moved in August to Sound Beach, near Stony Brook, where there is more work, but would be willing to commute an hour each way to the Hamptons if she could find a job here. So far, she has been out of luck.

“Anything in the domestic field is flat, dead,” she said. Cleaning and companion jobs are few and far between in her experience, she said. Agencies that represent domestic workers are getting huge responses to a single job. “A lot of agencies that were getting five or eight responses to a job are getting 10 times that many now,” she said.

Katie Schubert, of Montauk, is one of the lucky job-seekers. She landed the position Mr. Stollar offered as a companion for his mother. She had been looking for a job for about a month before she got that position. She was formerly a chef for the Montauk Yacht Club, which closed for the season in November.

“In terms of working, you’re going 100 miles an hour and all of a sudden there is nothing,” she said of the seasonal nature of her work as a chef. “I was really up a creek until I found this companion job. I was really lucky,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing but horror stories from people looking for work right now.”

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