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Online shopping killed many retail jobs in WNY, now it's bringing some back

The changing face of retail has cost Western New York thousands of jobs in recent years. Now, those same retail changes are bringing some jobs back.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have closed more than 50 stores in the Buffalo Niagara market since last year, taking a slew of retail jobs with them. But other jobs are beginning to surface as a result of the consumer preference for online shopping.

  • Online retail juggernaut Amazon is currently hiring hundreds of workers for its planned Lancaster distribution center. The company will hold open interviews from 8 a.m. to noon at the Delavan Hotel & Spa, 6461 Transit Road in Depew.
  • Instacart, which will deliver groceries that consumers order online from Wegmans, recently embarked on a local hiring bonanza.
  • And Whole Foods, recently purchased by Amazon, is currently sifting through more than 1,100 applications for 140 spots at its soon-to-open store on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

Job openings at Amazon will include positions in fulfillment, management, human resources, IT and operations leaders. Job seekers will be able to tour the facility and attend informational sessions. Candidates can fill out applications during the event, and Amazon is equipped to hire job seekers the same day, the company said.

The bulk of job openings at the Lancaster facility will be for "part-time sortation associates," which are paid $12.25 per hour. The description for that job listing says such workers will sort boxes, as well as build, wrap and transport packages and pallets, sometimes using a pallet jack, cart, dolly, hand truck or other moving equipment.

Sorters will stand for long periods, walk long distances and lift packages up to 49 pounds. They will also rotate tasks many times each week, work at a rapid pace and may have to take on extra hours. The facility's temperature varies from 60 to 90 degrees, and will "occasionally" exceed 90 degrees, the company said.

Amazon offers tuition reimbursement for full-time, regular employees who have been with the company for at least one year. Part-time, hourly employees who work 20 to 29 hours per week are also eligible.

The local event is part of a larger Jobs Day initiative by Amazon to hire 50,000 employees at 10 hiring hubs across the country.

Amazon has faced criticism for its work environment, as well as its treatment of blue-collar and white-collar workers alike.

An August 2015 New York Times story, which interviewed more than 100 current and former Amazon employees, outlined a toxic work environment, impossibly high expectations and the pushing out of sick or pregnant employees. Jeff Bezos, the company's CEO, responded by asking employees to report bad practices to the human resources department or to email him directly.

Instacart, a third-party personal shopping and delivery app, is looking for 150 local, independent contractors. The company will expand its services to the Buffalo Niagara market Tuesday as it begins delivering groceries for Wegmans customers. In addition to Wegmans, Instacart will shop for and deliver items from Petco, CVS and PriceRite.

The company began posting job ads for personal shoppers on Craigslist last week. Those shoppers are required to have access to a car, two or more years of shopping experience, access to a recent smartphone and the ability to lift up to 40 pounds.

Job seekers can apply online at Instacart.com.

Whole Foods, the national grocery store chain recently acquired by Amazon, is in the midst of a separate hiring blitz in an attempt to staff the Amherst store it will open in September.

Amazon has been trying to make inroads into food sales with its Amazon Fresh grocery delivery concept, which is not yet available in the Buffalo Niagara market. Its purchase of Whole Foods represents a major push into grocery.

Whole Foods has posted 27 job openings on its website, ranging from meat and seafood cutter to cashier's assistant. The company has received more than 1,100 applications and will begin interviews next week with the assistance of the state Labor Department's Buffalo Office, said Ted Kwong, a Whole Foods spokesman.

Whole Foods plans to hire around 140 workers for the store under construction in the Northtown Plaza, at 3097 Sheridan Drive.

– News Staff Reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report.

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