TAMPA — Just finding a place to park at the Tampa Premium Outlets job fair was itself a job worthy of a paycheck.
About 1,000 people packed the fair during the first two hours, resumes in hand, dressed to the nines, hoping to land one of the more than 800 positions available at the Pasco shopping center.
The convention space, in the Embassy Suites on Fowler Avenue near the University of South Florida, was bursting at its seams. Applicants, some of whom had started lining up as early as 6:30 a.m., stood five and six deep at each of the 59 vendor tables. Others sat at lobby tables, the bar, even on the floor filling out paperwork.
"We knew there was going to be a lot of people, but we didn't think it'd be this busy," said Kreshonda Floyd, 21, who was with her friend Kierra Harrison, 20, both of Dade City, applying for positions. The two women were looking for jobs at Nike, Aldo and Michael Kors, their favorite brands.
"We lined up before 9 a.m. thinking we'd be here ahead of the game, but (hundreds of) people were thinking the same thing," Harrison said.
Sheldon Podolsky, 83, of Wesley Chapel called the number of people in attendance "outrageous." He was there with his wife, Lillian, 73, a former jewelry saleswoman, who was hoping to land a job at a high-end retailer. The two were sitting off to the side, away from the bulging convention space.
While the large crowds may have overwhelmed some job seekers, vendors loved the foot traffic by their stalls.
"It's been magnificent," said Debbie Gordon, district manager for women's clothing and apparel store Talbots. "This is very similar to other outlet openings, but the quality of the people has been very good. Everyone is really enthusiastic. Everyone is really prepared."
Some of the retailers were even conducting interviews at the fair. Some offered jobs on the spot.
Many of the available positions were part time or seasonal. With the holidays shortly after the Oct. 29 grand opening, Tampa Premium Outlets general manager Stacey Nance said, some stores were looking to fill their rosters with holiday temps in addition to long-term employees.
But Jola Crespo, a 40-year-old single mother from Trinity, said she can't afford part-time work. She was laid off in March from her full-time job in which she made $15 to $20 an hour selling jewelry online.
"It's been almost a year, and I can't find a job to replace the income," she said while filling out an application. "Driving from Trinity for 15 to 20 hours a week, how can you survive on that?"
Nevertheless, Nance said 800 more employed people will be a boon to the local economy, especially in Wesley Chapel, which has experienced breakneck growth the past few years.
"I think it's only going to better our city, our town, our county and even our state," she said.
Hope Allen, Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce's executive director, could hardly contain her excitement at the mall's imminent opening.
"Oh, my God, the tax dollars it'll bring in!"
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @josh_solomon15.