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Working in retail can have many benefits–in addition to the employee discount.

When the holiday season approaches, Linda Hansford knows exactly what she will be doing: The 55-year-old trades her regular part-time job at a nursing home to work in the seasonal gift shop at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. She has returned for the past four years as much for the holiday spirit as for the 40 percent discount on gift shop items.

Out on the West Coast, Phil White had the same idea. After selling his men’s clothing store in Portland, Ore., nine years ago, White had plenty of time for golf, grandchildren and travel with his wife, Carol. But when the economy turned sour and with the holidays approaching, the 66-year-old decided to look at part-time work. He found the perfect fit: as a salesman at Patrick James, an upscale men’s clothing store. “It’s an opportunity to earn a little money and be able to buy gifts for family and friends,” White says.  

With unemployment soaring among all age groups—for seasonal jobs as well as full-time—Hansford and White were looking in the right place. For older workers, retail is friendly. Just ask Judy Billodeau, who decided to return to work 13 years ago. The then-54-year-old former small-business owner and bookkeeper and her husband had recently retired to Sun City West, Ariz., a retirement community near Phoenix, and she was getting “antsy,” as she puts it.

She looked for office jobs but didn’t exactly find open doors. “I couldn’t even get an application once they saw the address on my resumé,” she says. Then she walked into a local Staples, and the manager hired her on the spot. “The retail business doesn’t have a problem with age,” she says.

That’s confirmed by a study released in July by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization. The report showed that retail employs more people over age 65 than any other industry. That translates into nearly 350,000 men and women working as salespersons or supervisors in the nation’s stores.

Even though many people nearing retirement talk about pursuing a significant second career after 65, or a so-called dream job, a lot of people wind up in difficult jobs that are not particularly interesting, says researcher Richard Johnson, a coauthor of the report. “Our study is a reality check on what’s really available for older people.”

A job in retail may well be a second career for many older workers. And in today’s gloomy economic landscape, this translates as good news for a segment of the population that wants—or needs—to work. A recent AARP study, “Retirement Security or Insecurity?,” showed that if the economy does not improve significantly, 65 percent of workers age 45 and older will delay their retirement.

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