Puyallup Fair job line goes on and on

The line began forming at 3:30 Wednesday morning.

By the end of the day, at least 4,000 people had come to apply for 3,000 available jobs at next month’s Puyallup Fair.

Several hundred people had gathered by the time the Employment Security Department office opened at 8:30 a.m. and still the line continued to grow, filling the sidewalk along Ninth Avenue Southwest, turning at South Meridian and continuing until it reached the fair’s Blue Gate.

That’s maybe 11 blocks, fair spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme said Wednesday afternoon.

And that’s maybe 3,000 people at any one time.

“It has really been phenomenal,” LaFlamme said. “I’ve never seen it like this before, in 23 years. At 11 o’clock we closed the line. We informed the people at the end to come back tomorrow.”

By 1:45 p.m. the ESD intake workers were seeing people who had arrived six hours earlier.

WorkSource specialist Theresa Hoffman, who supervises the portable ESD office, arrived at 7:15.

“There were only four of us. We called for help from the Lakewood office,” she said. Ten workers would eventually staff the office.

“I knew it was going to be like this,” Hoffman said Wednesday afternoon. “I had double the show-up at the Spring Fair.”

In the past 25 years, ESD has seen no more than 500 applicants on the first day of hiring.

Most of the jobs pay the minimum wage and range from food service counter help to sales, and from product demonstrators to positions with rides and games.

“I didn’t think it was going to take this long,” said Kayla Astacio, 16, from Lakewood.

“I got here at 7:45,” she said at 1:45 Wednesday afternoon while sitting next in line.

Don Farley, 68, from Puyallup, was looking to get a position in sales.

The line outside? “It was unbelievable,” he said.

Rather than spend the day in line with his two sons, Jay Harvey of Tacoma had a better idea.

Harvey already has a job as a truck driver for Praxair, so he wasn’t looking for work.

But Jeremy and James were, and they were facing the same long wait as everyone else.

Harvey drove to a nearby Jack in the Box drive-in and ordered 100 mini-burgers. He figured he could find people who were hungry after standing so long in line, and maybe he could slide his sons up a few hours if he made some new friends near the front.

It worked.

“I’d do anything for my boys,” he said. “They got in a half-hour quicker.”

Puyallup Police responded to a few minor incidents in line – a few fistfights, some heated words – but the crowd remained generally patient and polite.

“We are seeing more quality of experience (in the applicants),” said Hoffman. “It’s way, way different than before.”

Hiring will continue through the entire fair, LaFlamme said, but the earlier people apply, the better the chance for the more desirable jobs. Because of the crowds Wednesday, LaFlamme said the procedure for accepting applications will change today.

Organizers will distribute numbers to the first 600 people to arrive at the gate on Ninth Avenue Southwest, and applications will be accepted only from those with numbers. Same goes for Friday.

The drive-through lane at the downtown Puyallup Jack in the Box is open 24 hours.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535