NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just in time for the holidays, Carlita Cane got a cashier's job at a Cracker Barrel restaurant and store. She's hoping to keep it after Christmas - and Cracker Barrel also wants her to stay.
With the economy improving, many U.S. retailers are taking on more holiday help, and not just for temporary jobs.
"We are staffing up. We want enough people in the stores to make shopping a good experience," Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis said.
Across much of the nation, holiday business is expected to be stronger than it was in 2002, with analysts predicting an average sales increase of 4 percent to 5 percent over last year. That's allowing many retailers to hire more holiday workers, and created more demand for permanent employees.
"The economy has gotten much better," said Karl Bjornson, a retail consultant with Kurt Salmon Associates. "Consumer confidence is up. People just have greater confidence in the economy and more dollars in their pockets."
Sarah Calfee, retail manager for a Harley-Davidson store in Franklin, is also looking for holiday hires who might stay on after the season.
"People of all walks of life are coming in here wanting jobs - mothers wanting extra cash, restaurant workers who work at night, all kinds of people," she said.
But as the labor market improves, competition for workers will increase and retailers are likely to find it harder to keep employees.
"A lot of people took jobs in retail because nothing else was available. Those people will be rotating out as new jobs are offered, so many retailers will be getting a little more aggressive in hiring," said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director for Strategic Resource Group in New York.
Many retailers are hiring more employees than they did last year, even if they don't plan to keep them.
Electronics are expected to do particularly well during the holidays, so Circuit City recently took on 12,000 workers, mostly to work through Dec. 31, spokesman Steve Mullen said. That's an increase of 20 percent to 30 percent from 2002, according to Kathie Hess, a Circuit City spokeswoman.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is hiring about the same amount of holiday help as last year - some 14,000 people - according to spokeswoman Suzanne Haney.
Hiring needs vary widely from one store to another, depending on the type of merchandise and a retailer's particular internal structure.
Circuit City needs more sales people on the floor because they have more interaction with the customers and more workers in the back of the store because much of the merchandise is warehoused there, Bjornson said. Wal-Mart's merchandise typically is on the shelf and "they don't provide large amounts of service on the floor," so most of their additional hires will be at cash registers to help move people out of the store quickly, he said.
One retail segment that's lagging behind the rest of the industry, traditional department stores, isn't expected to hire large numbers of seasonal help.
"They anticipate an increase over last year, but probably not as much as other sectors," Bjornson said.