Shopko Hometown closes its doors for the last time

Bulletin photo by Floyd Whiting

Buffalo residents shop for the last of the clearance deals on June 18 as Shopko Hometown in Buffalo prepares to close its doors after filing for Chapter 11 in January of this year. Employees who remained to finish closing the store will receive no severance or retention pay. 

When Lisa Purcella signed on with Pamida in 2009, it was supposed to be a short-term gig. But a decade later, and she’s still working retail in the store. She’s seen many changes – most notably that Pamida sold to Shopko Hometown in 2012. On Tuesday afternoon, Purcella locked the doors on the store for the last time.

“For me, it’s a full circle thing,” Purcella said. “The type of worker that I am, it’s hard for me to just leave it.”

The store’s closing was the end of a long denouement that began with the news in 2018 that Shopko planned to close 39 stores.

When Pamida came to town and opened the store on Highway 16 West, Purcella answered a help wanted ad looking for employees to help set up the layout of the store.

“It was supposed to be temporary,” Purcella said. “Just a couple of people to come help set the store up cause it was empty. I thought that it was something different, something fun.”

A single mom and massage therapist by trade, Purcella was looking for a second job to fill the time and possibly offer some benefits.

She had never worked in retail. The experience was something new and exciting.

“We started to get stuff in. It was kind of neat to be the one who opened a box and get to see what was in there,” Purcella said.

At the time, Purcella enjoyed the experience, but didn’t see herself doing the job full-time until management said they would be willing to work around her schedule and offered her a key position.

“After we got the store up and put together they asked me if I would stay on as one of the key carriers,” Purcella said. “I thought, well lets see, I’m a single mom with two children, I’m a massage therapist, but if you’re willing to work around that, I guess I will.”

For the last 10 years, Purcella worked fulltime. In 2012, Shopko purchased the location. Purcella helped remove the Pamida stock and replace it with Shopko merchandise.

Purcella doesn’t take breaks. During her lunch, she eats and returns to work, and in 10 years, she’s never once called in sick. But after all the years of dedicated work, Shopko filed for bankruptcy and began closing stores citing “excess debt and competitive pressures.”

In December of 2018 Shopko announced its intention to close 39 stores. By mid-January, the company announced in a press release its intention to sell off its pharmacy assets to competitors and filed for bankruptcy protection. The Buffalo location lost its pharmacy in January, but Shopko headquarters said that the retail would remain open due to its successful record of sales.

But sales of the pharmacies didn’t go as expected, and on March 18, the company reported it would “commence an orderly wind-down of its retail operations.”

After 10 years of dedicated service, Purcella and 15 other workers would be losing their jobs.

At the beginning of the end, every day the Buffalo location crew would crowd into the office and gather around the computer to read any emails sent to them from Shopko headquarters in Wisconsin, but the news was sparse. Buffalo location employees learned about their fate from third-party news sources, according to Purcella.

“We were mad. For the first couple of weeks, we would come into the manager’s office and be on the computer researching, asking each other, what did you hear? What did you read?” Purcella said.    

Pharmacy workers were paid a month’s salary when the location closed. At first, those merchandise employees who remained to help liquidate the store were offered retention pay, but as time passed the promises were broken, and the retention pay began to disappear. Those who have stayed to help close the Buffalo location will receive no manner of compensation.

“We’ve had a few people leave, which is understandable,” Purcella said. “No one is getting any severance. They talked about doing retention, now they are saying there is not going to be retention for anyone who stays. Now, there’s just nothing.”  

On top of removing the retention pay incentive, should an employee have taken their vacation before earning the accrued time over the year, the employee would be forced to pay back the difference in their last check.

“I had already taken two weeks,” Purcella said. “I might be close, maybe shorted a day or two. Right now, I think I have a negative 12 hours of vacation pay. If I don’t get that built up, which I’m pretty sure I won’t, they’ll take that from my last paycheck.”

With high premiums, some employees thought to save money by canceling their insurance, but Shopko wouldn’t allow it, Purcella said.

“Three of us who have the insurance thought, none of us will meet our deducible. It’s a pretty high premium that we’re paying and we’re not getting anything in the end so why can’t we keep our money?” Purcella said. “It wasn’t the insurance company that wouldn’t let us (cancel) it was Shopko that wouldn’t let us. Because I’m sure they are going to owe them money too. So, I kind of thought that was unfair.”    

As the Buffalo location began liquidating, they received freight from closed locations along with instructions to sell as much as possible before closing the doors.

Purcella was forced to overstock her apparel department even as the liquidators were removing other departments out of the store.

“The way the store looks like right now is stressful,” Purcella said. “You’re just exhausted from the minute you get here, until the end of the day.”

Even though there will be no retention or severance pay and despite her frustration, Purcella was the last employee out of the store.

On June 18, the Buffalo location of Shopko Hometown was closed for good. Purcella will continue with her massage therapy business, but she’s going to be looking for work that will offer insurance, hoping this time she finds a company that is as dedicated to her as she is to them, but said she is done with retail.

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