Wal-Mart hiring in Woodbury

At least someone has jobs - 550 of them.

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Micah Norman, 48, of Woodbury, waits for a job interview at Wal-Mart's hiring center in Woodbury. He had filled out an application online. He said he had been out of work for two months.

The insecure joined the unemployed yesterday in a vacant storefront in a Woodbury strip mall.

There, Wal-Mart had opened a temporary hiring center to recruit 550 cashiers, stock clerks, and supervisors for its new combination store and supermarket opening this summer in Deptford.

Among those at the center was a gentleman in his late 50s who did not want his name used.

"That would be embarrassing," he said. People might wonder why someone like him, a fixture in the local real estate market, would be looking for work at Wal-Mart.

"So far, I've been able to weather [slow home sales] by taking from my savings," he said, "but that can't last long."

By 3 p.m., more than 60 people had shown up. At least 150 other job seekers came through the Internet.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at least through the beginning of next week.

"We're seeing a steady flow of applicants," said manager Bill Riiff. "It is great to see the number of people who want to work for our company. So far, we have not been at a loss for any positions.

"I'm blessed at this particular point in the economy to be able to offer good benefits to full- and part-time associates," he said.

The unemployment rate in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties reached 8.7 percent in March, the U.S. Labor Department reported yesterday. In those three counties, 57,800 are jobless.

Among them were applicants Aja Peters, 27, her mother, Jacqueline Huggins, and her brother, Rashon Huggins, all from Deptford. None has been able to find steady work since October 2007.

It got so bad, Peters said, she turned over custody of her children to their father.

"To give up your place, to move back with your mom, to lose your kids," she said, "that [stinks]."

Romeo Aranda of Williamstown walked out of the storefront a happy man with a job offer in his hands.

He will soon train for a job in the receiving department.

Aranda recently moved from Australia so his wife could live near her family. In Australia, he said, he made a good living selling mining machinery. His compensation included a base salary, commissions, and a car.

"Here they want people on commission only," he said. "I can't afford it."

The real estate salesman was still waiting to use a computer when Aranda was called for his final interview.

The real estate agent said he liked the flexibility of home sales, but he would trade flexibility for a job with benefits. Health insurance for him and his wife, at $1,300 a month, has become unaffordable, and retirement is out of the question.

"As much as I used to look forward to retiring," he said, "I don't think that's in the cards for anybody."


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Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.