'Tis the Season to Work for Square Employers

Huck Keys anxiously surveys the floor of the Harvard Square HMV Records, looking for customers who may need assistance and for managers who may be scrutinizing his performance.

It's a Friday night, exactly two weeks before Christmas Eve, and Keys, a 27-year-old Somerville resident in Pumas and slim gray cords, hasn't been working at HMV a week.

The same weekend, across the river at Boston's Prudential Center, Ed Savage lets forth a hearty chuckle as he sits easily on top of his sleigh, decked out a furry red and white Santa Claus costume. A tot riding by in a stroller waves and laughs when Santa waves back.


The solidly built Savage, 54, is clearly enjoying the respite from his day job as a postal worker in his seventh year as the Prudential Center Santa.

With his Santa-like physique and festive clothing, Savage in his sleigh seems worlds apart from the nervous Keys, but they're filling similar slots this holiday season.

With a public intent on efficient holiday shopping, the demand for short-term holiday workers like these two is particularly high this year.

As the Dow continues to rise and unemployment figures fall to record lows, a tight labor market challenges retail store managers who need extra staff to maximize profits from holiday shoppers.

"It's extremely difficult to find help [right now]," says Gerald Olbach, the president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

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