Della Atkinson has been searching for work since her census job ended six months ago. Despite her efforts, the Severn resident couldn't find anything other than baby-sitting jobs.
But yesterday, her luck changed - she was the first person hired at the Arundel Mills job fair in Glen Burnie.
"Oh, the Lord is smiling on me," said Atkinson, 46, who landed a job in retail sales at the Burlington Coat Factory. "I feel like jumping up on top of the roof and screaming. "
Several hundred people like Atkinson, wearing dresses or suits and nervous smiles, filled out applications and met with stores' representatives in hopes of landing one of the more than 3,000 full- and part-time positions for the new shopping center, which is to open Nov. 17.
The two-day fair, in its final day today from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Michael's Eighth Avenue, features more than 60 merchants hiring for sales, customer service and managerial positions, among others. By noon yesterday, more than 600 job seekers had attended.
The 1.6 million-square-foot shopping center run by Mills Corp. will be the largest mall in Maryland. The complex, off Route 100 in Hanover, will house 200 stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, and expects to attract more than 17 million visitors annually.
Some of those shoppers could bump into Shem Lumsden of Elkridge at one of the stores. Early yesterday morning, he had already received at least four job offers in management and was mulling them over.
"I'm going to sit back and analyze them - the benefits, the pay, the type of environment," said Lumsden, 17.
Some of the stores are hiring people on the spot, while others, such as Old Navy, are taking applications and setting up interviews. The store is looking to fill 175 positions, said Jerry Baker, the store's operations manager.
"So far, the turnout has been phenomenal," he said.
Mills Corp., based in Arlington, Va., recently held job fairs for Mills complexes in North Carolina and Texas, but the Arundel Mills fair appeared to have the best turnout, said David Moorman, district manager of Toys International, who participated in the other job fairs. He said his store is looking for applicants who have bubbly personalities and get along with children to fill the store's 30 positions.
"Everything else we can train them to do," he said. "But if they've got that personality, that spark, it's a plus for us."
Mills Corp. officials are expecting thousands of applicants to attend the job fair. About 500 of those will be people who participated in the Mills Access to Training and Career Help program before interviewing at the fair. The program, run by the company and Anne Arundel Community College, taught retail skills, said Gene Condon, general manager of Arundel Mills.
"The goal is to provide applicants with skills they need and additional help they need to find a career, not to find a job; we want them to find a career," he said.
Those who participated in the program were allowed to interview with merchants an hour before the job fair opened. About 300 people, including Atkinson, took advantage of that opportunity yesterday, Condon said.
Mills Corp. is working on providing the program's participants with child-care facilities and transportation to work, Condon said. For people such as Atkinson, that's a big benefit. She said she had a difficult time looking for a job because she didn't have a car or the opportunity to take public transportation. A new public bus line by her home now will help her get to the mall.
"There's no reason for people to say they can't get a job because of transportation now," she said.
Condon said stores will be hiring to fill positions up to the mall's opening, and the Retail Skills Center at the mall will help train people after the opening.
Atkinson will start working even before the mall's opening. She is to report today to the Burlington Coat Factory in Jessup, where she will help in the store's transition to Arundel Mills.
She said her new income will help her save for a car and move out of public housing. "It'll take a little while, but I'll get there."