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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Job fair at Canobie Lake Park has magicians and jugglers amid the hopefuls

SALEM – Job fairs are always a mix of optimism and pessimism, but when the line of hopefuls snakes next to a roller coaster and includes people who while away the time juggling, the contrast is starker than usual.

“It looks like they have fun, doing their job here,” said Stephanie Garcia, a junior at West High School in Manchester, as she waited in line with her application at Canobie Lake Park on Saturday.

At least 1,000 people showed up during the four-hour job fair at the park, the first of two it will hold as it gears up for 2012. (The second will be May 15.)

The park, which has existed in various forms since 1902 and opened its first roller coaster 76 years ago, hires roughly 1,000 people in full- and part-time positions during the season, which starts April 28, said Chris Nicoli, marketing and entertainment manager.

At times Saturday, the line of applicants stretched completely through one parking lot and into another. Included among folks looking for more routine jobs were performers of various stripes.

“We had magicians in the line, doing tricks, entertaining people – and jugglers, character (actors), others,” Nicoli said.

No wonder Garcia, 16, came to a place where she has spent many fun weekends to look for a first job, preferably as a cashier. Her mother, Lydia, accompanied her for moral support but ended up musing, only half-jokingly, about applying for a position herself.

But no job fair is all fun, especially in this economy, and even in New Hampshire, which has one of the lowest unemployments rates in the country – 5.4 percent in February.

“I’ve been trying for 2 1⁄ 2 years, with no luck. I’ve had maybe three responses,” said Cindy Lowenstein, of Salem, who hoped experience as a legal secretary and word processor in Boston would get her an office job. “I’ve applied for jobs that paid less than I’m making on unemployment and still didn’t hear any response.”

“I keep hearing about all these new jobs, but I don’t know where they are,” she added.

Pasquale Vitale, of Lowell, Mass., spent more than 10 years as a security guard but has only been able to find 11 hours of work a week, he said. He’s applying for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential under the Transportation Security Administration and believes that will help. But he still had hopes for a security job at Canobie Lake Park.

“I figured with my experience, it would be pretty easy to get a job, but I’ve had just two bites recently,” he said.

Nicoli, the park’s marketing manager, said the job fair’s timing on Easter weekend, when lots of students have time off, bolstered the percentage of youngsters showing up and applying. And while it got chilly after noon, the weather was still pretty nice, he added.

“In past years we’ve had rain, cold rain. That’s not fun,” he said.

Canobie Lake Park has a small number of year-round workers, some in maintenance and some holding specialty jobs for rides, but most of its employees are seasonal. Even then, Nicoli said, expertise is valued, whether as a juggler or a mechanic experienced with pneumatics, a common motive force in amusement rides.

Hopefuls filled out applications and then stood in line for a half-hour or more before getting interviewed by one of about 30 park staffers.

Sodexo, the international firm that runs many of the park’s food concessions, also was interviewing Saturday.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or