Mother Earth and Father Christmas teamed up this year to give retailers at the Colorado Mills mall in Lakewood a headache to remember.
A massive hailstorm on May 8 caused millions of dollars in damages and forced the mall to shut down for six months. Now, with most employees long gone and a soft reopening scheduled for Nov. 21, retailers are scrambling to staff up in time for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
On top of the annual seasonal staff needed to handle the holiday shopping surge, the Colorado Mills retailers are collectively looking to hire hundreds of part- and full-time staff to replace the employees who pursued other opportunities.
Fortunately, they are not doing it alone.
Simon Property Group Inc., the mall’s owner, is working with the Jefferson County Business & Workforce Center (JCBWC), formerly called the American Jobs Center, to connect the retailers with potential employees.
The JCBWC has already hosted three Colorado Mills-specific job fairs, one for dislocated employees in June and two for retailers in October. At the Oct. 24 fair, 20 employers were looking to fill approximately 500 open positions.
But only 100 job seekers showed up.
Part of the problem is that there simply are not that many people looking for work, according to Jill Howard, business development director at the JCBWC. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported a statewide unemployment rate of 2.5 percent in September, which is significantly lower than the 4.2 percent unemployment recorded nationally that same month.
“The challenges faced by some at the Colorado Mills mall are the same challenges that many businesses are facing,” Howard said.
Dan Blodgett, the manager of the It’s Your Move at Colorado Mills, is one such retailer. All four employees he had working with him before the hailstorm have since departed.
“Two employees were getting ready to move on anyway. Another, we relocated to another location. Another was able to find another job fairly quickly,” he said.
The hiring effort has been further complicated by the fact that the store itself is closed, according to Blodgett.
“A lot of times you get people asking for applications through walk-ins,” he said. “That’s obviously not happening now.”
It’s all led to a fairly desperate predicament for retailers like Blodgett.
“I’ve been contacting a lot of our past employees, to see who wants hours,” he said. “I’ll probably be trying to reach out to friends and relatives as well.”
Tonia Oliver opened the Beef Jerky Experience at Colorado Mills only six months before the hailstorm.
“One hundred percent of my stock was lost. It was all unsalvageable,” she said, estimating approximately $250,000 in losses. “You put your life savings into something, and it’s totally wiped out in minutes. It was pretty devastating.”
Like many retailers, Oliver was able to secure significant insurance payouts to help with the reopening. She kept her manager on the payroll and is on pace to reopen on Nov. 21.
“I’m hoping for even bigger crowds for Black Friday. Maybe there’s pent-up energy,” she said.
Still, the hiring process has been a challenge for Oliver, too. She noted the low unemployment, but also the allure of the marijuana industry.
“We’ve lost a lot of retail and wait staff to that industry,” she said.
Other employers have been able to take advantage of their corporate networks to retain staff.
Felicia Cordova, the manager of Buckle at Colorado Mills, said her company offered to transfer all 10 full- and part-time employees to other Buckle locations. The six part-timers moved on, one of the full-timers took a manager job at a location in California, and the three other full-timers have been working at the Buckle in Cherry Creek.
However, even with those three trained staffers set to return, Cordova is not yet prepared for the reopening. She is looking to bring on 15 to 20 regular staffers and 10 to 15 seasonal employees.
“We need to put together a great team fast,” she said.
As for how all this will affect the expected surge in holiday shopping, it’s still unclear.
Big-box stores typically drive the Black Friday crowds with enticing sales, and the anchor retailers at Colorado Mills have been open for weeks. According to Simon Property Group, more than 100 of the smaller retailers and restaurants will be opening between Nov. 21 and the end of the year as well.
On the other hand, that means some of the mall’s stores won’t be ready for the Nov. 21 soft reopening.
“Finishes of common areas will be completed during evening hours extending into early 2018 and retailers will continue to open during this timeline,” Simon Property Group said in a recent statement. “We have elected to reopen the center as soon as possible in order to put retailers back in business and their employees back to work with the understanding that portions of the restoration will not be completed.”
In previous years, the mall owner festooned Colorado Mills with holiday decorations and hired a Santa Claus to entertain families. Simon Property Group hasn’t announced holiday plans for Colorado Mills this year.