Used to be that hotels and convention centers were the top picks to hold job fairs. But increasingly they are being held in local shopping malls to generate traffic and as another inviting use of the space, as traditional retailers shutter stores.
Earlier this week a sharply dressed Patrina Page, 36, of Wilmington, showed up with a stack of resumés at Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne for the New Year Job Fair held in front of the Sears Court, between a Victoria's Secret and Kids Foot Locker.
"This is a good idea," said Page, who was recently laid off as a dental hygienist, as she made the rounds among 40 employers who offered 1,000 jobs in various fields, including health care, which attracted Page, a trained emergency medical technician and phlebotomist. "It's a good central space to gravitate to and everybody loves the mall."
Wednesday's job fair attracted about 350 job-seekers who preregistered online and on site during its four-hour run in the Sears Court. Ironically, Sears Holdings Corp. announced another round of store closures and layoffs this month with 103 more Sears and Kmart stores to close nationally, including two in Philadelphia and one at the Shore.
Mall owners Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) and Simon Property Group – which own a majority of the Philadelphia region's malls – are hosting job fairs more often.
At Magnolia Mall in South Carolina and Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes Barre, PREIT partnered with Cumulus Radio to host spring and fall job fairs. Wyoming Valley Mall's job fairs included the employers Chewy.com, Mission Foods, and local health-care operators, while Magnolia Mall's events featured Tyson Foods, Perdue Chicken, Pepsi, and Monster Energy.
"The events have been incredibly popular in these regions, with more events already planned for 2018," said PREIT spokeswoman Heather Crowell.
Before 2016, job fairs were held at only one or two area Simon-owned shopping centers, said spokeswoman Lindsay Doyle.
Last year 13 job fairs were hosted in seven Philadelphia-area Simon malls, including Montgomery Mall, Philadelphia Premium Outlets, and Philadelphia Mills. Doyle expects that a similar number will be hosted in 2018.
The job fairs are typically held twice a year: in spring and in fall to staff up for the holiday season.
"Mall job fairs are a successful model since they attract both proactive job-seekers who come out specifically for the job fair, as well as those who may have visited the mall for entertainment reasons and saw there was a fair happening that day," Doyle said. "It's a convenient location for both employers and candidates."
Mall experts say job fairs make sense, and add to the growing list of non-retail uses at malls, including medical branches and tax offices, among others.
"As a trend, this would be positive," said Heather Almond, an associate director of the retail asset services group at the commercial real estate firm CBRE, which manages malls. "Anything that malls and shopping centers can do to drive traffic and build communities helps to create a sense of place and engagement. Malls are often considered 'town centers,' and this type of activity reflects that notion by creating access and connections."
A popular topic among her clients is how to alter the mall's traditional linear layout to make it more inviting, said Anjee Solanki, Colliers International's national director of retail services for the U.S.
"Retail is no longer retail but mixed use," said the San Francisco-based Solanki. "By bringing in traditional and nontraditional uses, you see an increase in the length of stay, then a higher spend per visit per person. There is still that desire not to just shop but to hang out."
And with a mall "you have the space," she said. "They are typically a million square feet or more, and if you can provide the opportunity to grab everything and everyone under one location, why not? It's repositioning the mall from what it used to be to what customers are asking for."
Jennifer Schultz, chief executive officer and founder of Recruitment Queen, a job board like Monster and CareerBuilder, which put together Wednesday's job fair at Oxford Valley Mall, said it attracted about one person for every three job openings, reflecting the robust economy out there. The jobs ranged from administrative and warehousing to senior manager positions. She said at least two more fairs were in the works later this year for Neshaminy and Montgomery Malls.
"The employers were very happy and pleasantly surprised that the snow didn't keep people from coming," Schultz said.
Ron Robinson, general manager for Sterling Limousine – which he said handles about 70 percent of the talent and executives coming into the area — was smiling ear-to-ear on Wednesday behind his table. There was still an hour to go for the job fair and he was still getting lots of interest.
"We already have eight interviews next week for 15 positions," he said. "This is the most response we've ever had at a job fair, far better than any we've had at a hotel or convention center. I just told the sponsor to put us in for the next one at a mall."
Robinson then veered his attention to Brian Reibin, 34, of East Norriton, a driver for Uber who's looking for a full-time job with benefits.