Last Labor Day, 2013, I was scheduled to work at the newspaper that shall not be named. As I had absolutely no assignments, instead of doing what was expected – going into the office and staring at the computer in case who knows what happened besides a police thing (to which I was not assigned) – I kicked around the local mall and talked to people who were working on Labor Day.
Since it’s a federal holiday, no one expects to get mail, do any banking, or go to court on Labor Day.
When it comes to shopping and eating out on a day that some have off work, it’s a more hit-and-miss proposition.
Many of the national chains and car dealers call the holiday their second biggest shopping weekend of the year, behind Thanksgiving. The holiday was instituted by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 as an alternative to the May 1 holiday many countries have adopted to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago, which occurred during a strike for the eight-hour workday.
Around Hughesville, the locally owned businesses were mostly misses for those looking to shop or eat.
Freezer’s Auto Parts, Mark’s Shoes, the Spartan Pub, and Springman’s Country Store were just some of the businesses taking the day off. Only the beer distributor, the tobacco store, and the gas station were open.
Neal Babb and his ladyfriend Wendy pulled into the TJ’s Market lot in Hughesville for some hoagies in early afternoon and found nothing but disappointment.
“It’s Labor Day and nothing is open,” Babb said. “People should be laboring. I worked today, I just got off.”
Around the mall, the chains were open for consumption.
“It’s a perfect time to pick up items you need for fall family get-togethers,” the Big Lots public address told shoppers. “Take advantage of great deals now.”
Michelle Parker was stocking the Halloween shelves with such necessities as $10 Teardrop Petticoats and Haunted Mirror Ghouls that sell for $17.50.
“It’s fun, fun,” Parker said as she shelved a bin full of Venetian Raven Masks. “You just can’t pay attention to the dates. It’s just another day.”
On an oppressive, humid day that never got around to raining, sales were quickest in the morning.
“It was crazy” at Macy’s to begin the day, Misses clothing associate Rita Koch said as she chattered with her comrades. “You think ‘where are they coming from? Did it start raining?’ There are a lot of people getting ready for fall. Kids getting things to wear to the football games, college kids home getting things to take back. You have to make it fun for Labor Day.”
The weather has a strong correlation with how busy stores get, according to several retail workers: the nicer it is outside, the more people stay out of the mall.
The rain holding off and keeping business down isn’t necessarily a good thing for Sears salesmen who are paid on commission.
“We were pretty busy earlier,” one salesman said, who asked not to be named. “If it rains on a holiday, in retail, forget about it. Today, everyone’s out eating, drinking, having fun.”
Jamie Homnick was stocking romance novels at BAM!, where Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is still holding down the number one spot in paperback sales despite the bookstore recently replacing 10 feet of its upfront book display with racks of T-shirts bearing mottoes like “Make Bacon Not War” and “Zombie Attack Survival Kit.”
“It’s been terrible,” Homnick said. “Terribly busy. All I’m thinking about is food.”
“A long day” was the general sentiment among employees folding Levi’s at Sears, inventorying Disney backpacks at Target, and selling Nikes at the Finish Line.
“I heard there was some sort of concert here,” said a Finish Line saleswoman. “I didn’t hear it. Sometimes it’s quiet, and then sometimes everyone comes in all at once.”
Of the workers surveyed, some were getting time and a half for their holiday work, some were getting a couple dollars more an hour, some weren’t getting paid anything extra, and some weren’t sure.
“It depends who you are,” one Target employee said.