For 30 years, Tracy Raynor’s smiling face was the first thing a sea of friends and shoppers saw in the bakery at the Mattituck Waldbaum’s.
But this week, Raynor and more than a dozen of her fellow Waldbaum’s employees were told that with a change in ownership, they’d lost their jobs, she said.
Last month, a federal bankruptcy court judge in White Plains approved the sale of the Mattituck Waldbaum’s to Key Food for $4.375 million.
As the former Waldbaum’s opened this week under the Key Food banner as Dan’s Supreme Supermarkets’ new store, Mattituck Marketplace, former employees say they were left reeling from the news — and trying to pick up the pieces.
Steve Decarlo, operations manager, spoke to SoutholdLOCAL this week: The Long-Island based Dan’s Supreme Supermarkets, which has locations throughout the boroughs in New York City, is a member of Key Food Stores Cooperative, and was founded in 1948.
According to Decarlo, a a renovation for the supermarket is planned. Decarlo said the goal is not to inconvenience customers while the renovation takes place.
When asked about the alleged firings, Decarlo responded by saying he did not know the “exact count” but said that the “majority” of employees had been retained; some employees had been kept on at “less” of a position, he said.
The store reportedly had a total of 56 employees, with 14 allegedly let go this week, Raynor said.
Decarlo added that currently, the union was working to address the situation. “I’m sure we can come up with a solution to any issues we have,” he said.
While some rumors have persisted that Key Food is a “non-union” operation, Decarlo assured that the store is a “union shop.”
Raynor alleges that 13 others either lost their jobs or were asked to take lesser positions, or asked if they could change to shifts which, ultimately, some employees were unable to accommodate, leading to the end of their time at the store.
When they heard the store had been sold, Raynor said, “We were told we’d keep our jobs and rate of pay,” she said.
Believing that an interview with new management was merely a “formality,” Raynor filled out her application and completed her first interview, then went back for a second.
Raynor said she’s worked in the bakery for 30 years, but never the deli; the new position merged the two, she said she was told.
Raynor said she had her last interview on Saturday and had a few days off. On Tuesday morning, she was headed into New York with her husband when, at 8:02 a.m., the phone rang with the news that changed her life.
She was told by a colleague that 14 people were going to be fired. “‘And your name is on the list,’ she told me,” Raynor said.
The loss was staggering.
Raynor had to say good-bye to colleagues she’d worked alongside for decades. “We lost our family,” she said.
And she’s not alone. Her friend Patti Hooks, who has a husband on disability, was also let go, and needed her paycheck, she said. “It’s horrible. I don’t have kids, but she has four,” Raynor said.
Hooks said not only she, but also, her daughter Ariana, who worked at the store part-time, was let go — and so was her mother, Pat Doucett.
“I was blindsided,” Patti Hooks said, adding that she has a son in college.
Each of the employees shares a deep concern for the others who shared their fate, a testament to the bond they shared. “I’m losing my family,” Hooks said quietly.
Hooks said another colleague, full-time, was offered a part-time post, but due to his long commute and change in salary, he declined.
Her daughter Ariana, 23, who also works full time at Peconic Landing, had worked at Waldbaum’s for seven years. “I’m so mad about the whole thing,” she said. “They’re all like family.”
Raynor said the outpouring of love from customers, friends, and the community has meant everything. When she went in to pick up her last check, she saw a longtime co-worker. “He hugged me and I started to cry,” she said. “I put a post on Facebook, and some of the things people wrote about me — I had not cried yet, but when I read those things people wrote, I cried.”
Over 30 years, Raynor said she’s seen customers with babies who’ve grown up, gotten married, and had babies of their own.
Hooks was with Waldbaum’s for a total of 25 years. When she went for her second interview during the transition week, she said she had to leave on Tuesdays by 4 p.m. “I feed the homeless at my church, St. Agnes,” she said. When asked if she could forego the commitment to work past 4 p.m., Hooks was adamant. “I said ‘no,'” she said.
Trudy Wold, who worked at the Waldbaum’s for 31 years, said she spent today with her cousin, navigating health insurance and unemployment. When told she wouldn’t be returning, Wold said, “I was surprised.” And echoing the familiar refrain, she said, “It feels like losing family.”
Rich Kelly, an assistant manager who had only been at the location seven months, but has worked for Waldbaum’s for five and half years, said he also got the news with a phone call.
Kelly, who’s 62, said he was devastated for his colleagues, who’d been at the location for decades, including Wold. “She’s one of the hardest working people they had in that store. Dependable — you could set your clock by her. If she had to be in at 7 a.m., she’s be in 6:50. She never missed work, she was a hard worker.” Of Hooks, he added, “You name it, Patti did it. Letting her go was an insult.”
His colleague Raynor, he added, is “well-respected. When they heard about Tracy, a lot of people were upset.”
Kelly said he’ll go to the Massapequa store for a few weeks to help that location liquidate, and with unemployment, veterans’ benefits, and his wife’s position as a bank manager, the job loss won’t hurt him. “I’ll get a part-time job,” he said. “But it was an insult to me, to find out with a phone call.”
Key Food was the top bidder for the Mattituck supermarket, which was sold at auction in the Manhattan law offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The Mattituck store was one of 72 that were the subject of a sale hearing in bankruptcy proceedings before Judge Robert Drain last month.
The privately held Key Food Stores Cooperative Inc. is acquiring 16 stores in the bankruptcy sale, according to court filings. Its purchase of the Waldbaum’s store in Center Moriches was also approved by the court last month, Newsday reported. The Riverhead Waldbaum’s was not sold and closed last month.
A union representative for Local 342 of the United Food and Commercial Workers did not return a call for comment this week.