NEWARK, N.J. — It’s the night before Thanksgiving and the city is brimming with excitement.
On the ground floor of the historic New Jersey Convention Center is the largest sporting goods retailer in the country.
Its doors are wide open, and shoppers can shop for sports gear, apparel, toys and more.
But as much as New Jersey has seen great success in its quest to reinvent itself and bring a more competitive edge to its economy, there are plenty of stores that cater to the same demographics that have been the heart of the region for generations.
In Newark, those shoppers include families with kids, the elderly and the disabled.
“The younger generations are the ones who are really getting their priorities in order,” said Matt Haggerty, executive director of the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state’s department of public health and social services.
“The kids are in school.
They’re in the office.
They want to be able to walk around their neighborhood and have fun.”
Haggerty said he thinks the success of sports gear in the state is partly attributable to the fact that the state doesn’t require people to get a prescription for certain drugs like prednisone.
That could make it easier for people to buy the gear without going through an expensive prescription, he said.
For some families, it means a cheaper, more accessible alternative to traditional grocery stores.
For others, it’s a way to get in on the latest technology and access sports events and competitions.
“I don’t think people can really afford to go to a store that’s just going to put out everything, whether it’s sports apparel or the latest fashion,” said Jennifer Haggerthysen, a retired teacher and mother of two who works at the Salvation Army in Newark.
“We’re really the last line of defense for kids in Newark, and we need to have the resources to make sure they can be safe.”
As a mother of three young girls, Haggertsen said she’s proud to be a part of the city’s sports culture.
But she said that’s not why she’s a sports shopper.
“My kids need to be entertained and have a good time, not just be able [to] go out and spend money,” she said.
“You know, I do it for the kids.
I don’t care if I make $5,000 or $10,000.
I need to make a living.
And when they’re looking for a job, it doesn’t matter how much they make.”
The Salvation Army, which is located at the corner of Market and Broadway in the heart on the western edge of the state, has been operating for almost 100 years.
In the past, the store’s employees, most of whom are women, were mainly paid by the store to perform charitable acts, according to owner and manager Karen Wurster.
The store has also had a tough time filling its jobs market in recent years.
For instance, the average sales job has declined more than 7% since the recession, and only about half of the employees are able to find new positions, Wurstens said.
As a result, the Salvation, like many other retail chains, is trying to cut costs.
The last year has seen a spike in layoffs at the store, which Wurstaust said has made her and her staff feel especially hard.
“There are times when we don’t get a call,” Wursten said.
“You get called at 3:30 in the morning.
You get a text at 2:30.
We’ve been told if we’re not on the road, we’re going to have to go home and we’re never going to get back.”
Wurster said the store is in a better financial position than it was a year ago.
The retailer has been able to increase its profit margins, but that has meant increasing the number of people working the store.
“At some point, we’ve got to cut down on those workers,” she told ABC News.
“So we’re trying to be as efficient as we can.”
She said that with that kind of job growth comes an increased need for more staff, which can lead to higher overtime costs.
As of last week, the number working at the supermarket was up nearly 5%, to 765 people, a 10% increase over the same period last year, Wurtstens told ABC.
Haggerthtsen, the retired teacher, said she believes a lot of the success comes from the fact the store doesn’t have to make an upfront investment to attract shoppers.
“When we first opened, we were in a time when it wasn’t really fashionable, when it was sort of in the ’60s and ’70s,” she explained.
“So we were really trying to attract people.
Now, it has a very modern feel to it, and it’s an exciting time to be in Newark.”