On The Avenue
Photo by Brian Burton/Squashed Orange
Well before Organic Avenue's staff got an email on Thursday at 1p, they had inklings that business had gone sour. The company struggled to find investors to keep its 10 stores afloat, and, in January, it was forced to lay off 38 employees. Despite the writing on the wall, retail staff were told 'business as usual'...until things became a littleun
In what turned out to be the company's final week, the weekly retail manager meeting was cancelled, a random "operations review" meeting was called, and then "my district manager came by the shop, and told me she got a severance package and that more information would be forthcoming," one of the many ex-associates I spoke with told me. As word spread, associates, many of who were young and relied on Organic Avenue for their income, began to make moves to protect themselves in case they were let go. Some looked for new jobs, others filed paperwork for money owed to them. "When I heard the news three days before, I put my PTO in to cash out. 40 hours. But I probably won't see it," another employee told me anonymously.
Last Thursday, as employees at the company's 10 locations were shilling juices and packaged goods, an email hit their inboxes. "The email said something like 'We send our deepest apologies, we tried to get funding, it didn't work, and so all employees will be terminated at end of their shift today." All of Organic Avenue's stores would close at 2pm, and keys were to be dropped off at a central location. Texts and emails began flying between the 200 or staff members who called themselves "the family."Would they be paid for the hours they worked? But didn't they hear that the company would open 5 more stores and a wellness center? And, how could employees support kids and pay rent with a check pulled from underneath them?
Since the email could not answer any of their questions, and replies to the email were not addressed by executives, Organic Avenue's employees were pissed. "[At some locations] people started acting crazy. They wanted to take things from stores, they wanted to loot because they knew they were all losing their jobs." Employees downtown sold the goods at half-price, gave some away for free, snagged $500 blenders, pulled stoves, and dipped into the registers for cash. "Some people were like, 'What are they gonna do? Fire me?'' While one retail manager I spoke with told me things at her store were calm, "it really was up to the retail manager to decide how the employees acted, what they took, and what their tone should be," she said. And so some pressed the juice press for all it had left.
Organic Avenue shuttered 10 shops across New York City last week
Now, nearly a week into the company's official announcement that it would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, the bulk of its associates are wondering if and when they'll ever get paid for their final week of work, or their accumulated paid time off. "I heard that no one's getting paid," said one. "People have kids, rent to pay, and we're left in the dark. It's absolutely ridiculous." Some are thinking of getting a lawyer, citing that the WARN Act commands that employers must give 60 days notice to its employees in case of a mass firing; others just want answers.
Feeling squeezed, one young worker with a wife and a kid yelped, "How can you do this to us without being prepared with answers?"*A representative of Organic Avenue did not respond to request for an interview by press time.
PostedOct 21, 2015