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Downturn Brings Hundreds Looking for Jobs at Shattuck Hotel

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 25, 2009 - 08:00:00 PM
Hundreds lined up outside the now-vacant Ross store Wednesday morning to apply for jobs openings at Shattuck Hotel, which opens in April.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Hundreds lined up outside the now-vacant Ross store Wednesday morning to apply for jobs openings at Shattuck Hotel, which opens in April.

The revamped Shattuck Hotel, as expected, drew crowds of people to downtown Berkeley Wednesday, long before its grand opening in April, but all of them were eagerly waiting all morning not to catch a glimpse of the hotel’s swanky interiors but to land a job there. 

Hundreds lined up as early as 8 a.m. outside the former Ross store at 2190 Shattuck Ave., where the interviews were being held, to apply for about 80 job openings at the hotel, a sign of the worsening economy, which is leading to layoffs in almost every industry. 

Officials at BPR Properties—the real estate company that owns Shattuck Hotel—estimated that more than 200 people had interviewed for the jobs, mainly service worker positions, by 10 a.m. They said that they expected the number to rise to 700 if not more by 3 p.m., when the interviews would come to an end. 

The line had snaked all the way up to the Berkeley JazzSchool on Addison by 11 a.m., with more people joining the queue every minute. 

The Shattuck Hotel went through extensive interior renovations in 2007. It is supposed to open in two months, creating an immediate need to fill the new openings. 

Built in 1909, the hotel, located at 2086 Allston Way, was originally designed by Benjamin G. McDougall and is considered one of the “historic jewels” of downtown. 

It tripled in size in the early 1910s when the original building was extended.  

Dennis Hoelle, a job coach, said he had brought a group of seven unemployed people to the interview. 

“On one hand it’s surprising to see so many people here, but on the other hand it’s not surprising at all—because of the economy, of course,” he said, adding that he was expecting 3,000 to 4,000 people to turn up at a job fair in Solano County next week. 

Hoelle said that he had prepared his clients to speak effectively during an interview as part of the CalWorks program, which was associated with the welfare system in the past. 

He said he had driven some of his clients—most of whom were trying for a receptionist’s position—to the interview around 9 a.m., at which point there were already 400 people waiting outside the building.  

“Any time you have a company like this hiring, you know that they are looking for people who will work three shifts, seven days a week,” he said. 

David Issel, vice president of operations for BPR, called the event a “pre-screening” for the positions. 

“We are seeing more people than usual this time,” he said. “I guess it’s a result of the economy.” 

Issel said the positions available were those for the front desk, housekeeping, the restaurant and the banquet hall. 

“We are only interviewing in Berkeley, so we are excited by the prospect of creating more jobs here. We are excited by the turnout today and hope to employ as many people as we can.” 

Efuru, an Oakland resident who did not want to give her last name, said she had interviewed for a front desk position. 

She said she was currently on unemployment and was desperately seeking a new job after getting laid off from her old one. 

“I work part time at a hotel in San Francisco—if you can call working one day a week part time,” she said. “I was pretty confident about getting this job but when I got here I was really surprised to see so many people. I got here at 9 a.m. and I had to wait half an hour in line.” 

The Skyline High School graduate said that her interview had been very brief. 

“They asked me three questions and told me that that would call me back in a couple of weeks,” she said. “I understand that there are a lot of people but hopefully they will take my previous experience into consideration. I am just going to push my head up and hope for the best.” 

Sandra Williams, who works at the Sutter Hotel in Oakland, said she was interviewing because she was not sure how secure her current job was. 

“There are rumors that Sutter might be closed down or sold,” Williams said. “I thought I would get a job as a telephone operator, but after seeing so many people here, I don’t know if I will get hired. The competition is so great that right now I will go anywhere I see an opening.”