Phil Luciano: Work wanted ad a sign of the times

Phil Luciano

You knew the economy was bad, but not this bad.

Folks like James Fleisch are trying just about anything to land a job. In fact, he has taken an extraordinary step: He took out a classified ad seeking work as a bartender.

The Journal Star runs maybe 50 "employment wanted" ads a year, typically in the areas of home health care nurses, CNAs and housekeepers. Why those occupations? Not sure.

But I'd never seen a posting seeking a job as a bartender. Until now, a job-searcher never had to. If you needed work, you could always pour drinks or wait tables. But not in today's economy. Not in central Illinois.

"It's ugly," says Fleisch, 28, with a tight smile.

I'd never met the guy before now. But he comes off like a decent sort, a good communicator with an easy smile.

Fleisch grew up outside London Mills, where he was home-schooled. He attended Spoon River College then got a business degree from Western Illinois University in 2002.

After that, he worked sales jobs. Two years ago, he found his niche: Learning on the job, he became a fiber-optic engineer with AT&T. His task was to determine where to lay lines to boost service and speed.

Meantime, he got married, had two kids and bought a house in Canton. For extra money, he learned to mix cocktails.

For five years, he worked at a Peoria steakhouse. But when business began to ebb about two years ago, Fleisch got laid off - even though he was a whiz behind the bar.

"Customers still come in asking for me," he says with a grin.

He caught on with a Canton pub. But, as with many area taverns and nightclubs, the soured economy has been tough. Fleisch got let go.

Then came the big blow: AT&T laid him off in July.

He has been looking and looking for jobs, full time or otherwise. He has called just about every person he knows in the bar trade for nibbles. Zip all around.

Fleisch has taken odd jobs in Canton to make a few bucks here and there. But the family has been squeaking by on his wife's factory pay and Fleisch's unemployment benefits.

"I didn't know what to do," he says. "I was getting desperate."

So he decided to take out an ad in the Journal Star: "Top-shelf bartender seeks bar. Honest, fast, fun. Five years' experience. Call James at 309-224-2982."

The ad began running last week. He has received exactly zero calls from pub owners.

He has fielded repeated calls from bartenders. They apparently misread the ad and thought he was hiring. That underscores the competitiveness of today's job market, even among bartenders.

For many bartenders, the trade had been transient: Pour drinks until you can find something better. But there's nothing much better now. So bartenders are staying put.

And that leaves Fleisch wondering what to do next.

"I don't want to sit on my butt all winter," he says, still managing to smile.

If the economy doesn't improve, I wonder how long he can hang onto that grin.

Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155 or