Second Hand Store employees dismissed by Boys and Girls Club
On Monday the two full-time managers and all volunteers who work at the Second Hand Store in Edgartown were fired, after a meeting earlier that morning of the Martha's Vineyard Boys and Girls Club's directors. The club runs the store to raise funds for its affordable family programs. The firings came in response to what the directors described as a consistent pattern of insubordination and resistance to change by the store's staff and volunteers.
"The Second Hand Store will be temporally closed, while the Boys and Girls Club looks to re-staff the store," said Peter Lambos, the executive director and spokesman for the Club, in a telephone interview on Monday. "The board believes that a lot of internal problems have been made public, and that management was not on the same page concerning the goals of this organization."
Reached by phone Monday, board member Anthony Myers confirmed the board's decision to reorganize the store. "We shut down the thrift shop temporarily and will start looking for new staff, because we believed that the current staff wasn't working in the best interest of the club or the community," Mr. Myers said. "Our basic conclusion was, we were not getting what we should of out of the employees".
According to Mr. Lambos, shortly after the meeting Monday morning, Joseph Forte, president of the directors, and board member Kelly Hess visited the store to tell store manager Darlene Kelly of her termination. Ms. Kelly then told the volunteers who were present that they had been dismissed. There were customers in the store.
Ms. Kelly confirmed that she was fired in the store with customers present and that she and the volunteers were escorted out, while a locksmith changed the locks behind them. Ms. Kelly, who has worked in the store for six years, said she did not know she was about to be dismissed. She said she felt she deserved proper notice.
"They were very rude and unprofessional," Ms. Kelly said, in a telephone conversation just hours after her firing. "I have no idea what led to it. There are no ongoing problems that were openly talked about. Down here, we work for the community, and the board wants something different. When I go out the door, my customers will go out the door with me."
Several hours after the dismissals and the store closing, assistant manager Penny Townes, who has worked at the store as a volunteer and employee for more than 25 years, received a call at her home from Mr. Forte, telling her that the club's board had also dismissed her.
"When I talked to the president of the board, he said that the problem had come to a head, and it was disgruntled customers and the circulation of a petition that protested the changes being made at the store that pushed it to this point," Ms. Townes explained in a phone interview with The Times Monday evening. "People wanted to start a petition because they weren't happy about changes made at the store; they heard grumblings of other things going on. They like the nature of the store, because it is a gathering place for people who live in town. They [the board] wanted to upscale the store, because it's in Edgartown."
To explain the closing to many regular customers, the club's board placed a notice in the window of store shortly after it was closed. The notice said that the store will be closed while it is "re-staffed and re-organized" and that the store will be reopened "as soon as possible." The notice will also appear in The Times this week as a paid advertisement.
Why was the dismissal of long standing and well liked mangers conducted when the store was open and during the peek summer season? Mr. Lambos explained that the board acted in the best interest of organization by cutting the situation off before it became a distraction. He allowed that the firings could have been conducted in a more responsible manner.
"It is obvious that it was a poor decision to do it in that manner," explained Mr. Lambos. "The decision was made by the books. We knew no matter how this whole thing went down, it would bring negative PR on us. The actual firing could have been at a different time, but we have no regrets for letting them go."
"We decided to do it immediately, but there was not particular manner that we decided on," Mr. Myers said, in response to the same question. "The issues that brought us to this point were confronted today, and we concluded that we had to act quickly."
The rift between the management of the store and the directors appears to have begun several months ago when the board attempted to gain more control of the how the store was run and how its transactions were tracked. The board proposed to add two new members who would act as the store's liaisons to the directors, as is called for in the bylaws of the organization.
"The board has been more hands-on recently, especially with the store," said Mr. Lambos. "We brought in Karel Madison and Nancy Kelly [the new board members] to help oversee the Second Hand Store."
Store management reacted unfavorably to some changes requested by Ms. Madison and Nancy Kelly and by the board, including an increase of 25 to 50 cents in prices. According to Ms. Townes, management believed that the board wanted to change the store from a low price option for struggling Island residents to a "boutique" that catered to the more affluent summer visitors.
"The price increase was necessary because of the state of the economy and our need to raise more money for our programs. All that will change in the long run is maybe some new paint on the walls and a few new items, but that's it. No boutiques or major changes will be made to the store," Mr. Lambos said.
The refusal to accept the directors' requests for change raised questions about the management. "Over the years," Mr. Lambos said, "we have fielded many concerns over things that are going on down there that aren't in the best interests of the organization. We will just put it that way. No one was accused of anything, but there are all these protests going on down there. Why is all this change so bad? Why is logging inventory so bad? It got to the point where it just got overly resistive to positive change."
"There was no theft involved and no stealing involved. It was just, we weren't making enough money," said Ms. Townes.
The Boys and Girls Club is accepting applications to fill positions at the store. Despite the current problems Mr. Lambos insists that former employees and volunteers will be given a fair opportunity to reapply to work in the store again. Both former managers said they would not be sending in their applications anytime soon.
"Oh no, I would never reapply after what has happened and how I have been treated," said Ms. Townes. "We are just very, very sad after all those years, but it is done and there is nothing we can do about it."
The Martha's Vineyard Boys' and Girl's club has an annual operating budget of approximately $500,000. A majority of the operating budget is derived from donations. The proceeds received from the Second Hand Store cover a small percentage of the Clubs overall costs. In fiscal 2007, the Second Hand Store accounted for roughly $133,000 in revenue, but incurred $105,000 in expenses, including $25,000 to rent the retail space in Edgartown, leaving only $28,000 to be applied to club program needs. As recently as 2005, the store netted for the club as much as $68,000 in profit. According to Mr. Lambos, the store has in the past contributed more than $100,000 in support for the club.