Supermarket chain Stew Leonard's squeezed by tight job market

The supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s has come a long way since it began as a small dairy store in 1969 with just seven employees.

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Today, it has a workforce of about 3,000, and expanding beyond that in a tight labor market -- where joblessness is near a 50-year low -- comes with complications.

“We can feel the unemployment rate being so low right now,” CEO Stew Leonard Jr. told FOX Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.” “Just in our business we have about 3,000 people working at Stew Leonard’s.”

According to Leonard, the company had an easier time filling jobs in 2016.“We opened a store in Farmingdale, [NY,] back in 2016, [and] we hired 400 people,” Leonard said. “We had one job fair, filled it up.”

Leonard said the company had a similar experience hiring for its new store in East Meadow, Long Island, in 2017, but for its upcoming new store in New Jersey, it had a tougher time.

“The new store we’re opening in Paramus, we’ve had to have three job fairs, and the average rate of everybody we’re hiring is $15.50 an hour" or more, Leonard said.

The higher costs complicate a broader challenge, one facing bricks-and-mortar retailers nationwide: fending off fierce competition from online rivals, such as e-commerce giant Amazon, which now owns grocer Whole Foods.

“You know it’s tough,” Leonard said. “We’re a family business here, and they’re really masters at, you know, data mining.”