Why the Earth Fare stores closed – not because they ran out of money, not…

Help get out the true story of why Earth Fare closed.

It was not that the chain expanded too fast.

It was not too much competition.

It was not that they went bankrupt or ran out of money. The hedge fund that just, in one day, chose to get rid of thousands of American jobs, still has lots of money.

Earth Fare was started by two visionary entrepreneurial guys – Roger Derrough and Randy Talley – who genuinely cared about Asheville and about the grocery store. My understanding is that the first group to buy the chain was still local and still had a feel for the Asheville community. Several purchases later, they are now in the hands of a greedy capitalist (the worst of capitalism) hedge fund that cares not one thing about health or groceries or Asheville – or, obviously, the lives of all these thousands of employees.

We employees have been surmising for months that they must be getting ready to sell the company – based on the heartless way that they were trying to reduce expenses by reducing everybody’s hours. That has made it hard for people (including, definitely, me – until I left several weeks ago) to pay their bills – and very hard to get their jobs done, with fewer person-hours to do the job. Tremendous job stress for so many workers in the store – and for our management, who kept fighting for more hours.

And more and more upset from our customers, when they couldn’t find their favorite products or anyone on the floor to help them. Or long lines to check out because of fewer cashiers. Cashiers trying so hard to still be sweet to customers when the press of long lines never lets up, when impatient customers are mean to them, when their hearts are broken by hearing customers – who always have loved this store – complaining, “What’s going on with this store? It used to be such a great store – and now it has gone way downhill.” What do you do? tell them the truth? that feels unprofessional. You just try harder, maybe chat with people less, put your head down and try to show that you are moving the line as fast as you can. (This behavior doesn’t really make things go much faster, but is good optics.) The fun goes totally out of the work.

The story I hear is that about ten days ago, the big high-profit sale suddenly fell through. Maybe the new investor caught wind that the impressively profitable bottom-line did not tell the real story of a grocery store going rapidly downhill.

I’ve been told that, when the deal fell suddenly through, the robber barons decided in about a day that there best financial option was just to write off the loss. “Shut it down! Close the stores.” Just like that. Do you think that the lives of these thousands of employees factored at all into their decision? Or the precious place that this store has had in the lifeblood of Asheville? That people have always said, “Asheville is such a sweet, special, funky place – and Earth Gate is so Asheville.”

We need to take a stand about this. We need to get the story told. Our president is telling the whole country that what is good for corporations is good for the country. We are sitting on the evidence to the contrary.

What am I missing, folks?
What do I have wrong?
Where can pieces of this story be found on-line? We need to help the media and the politicians (City of Asheville, the City Council, Steve Woodsmall – our wonderful new congressional candidate) run down the whole story, so they can tell the Asheville community and the American public what is going on.

This story needs to be covered by the New York Times, by the Washington Post, NPR, Rev. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, MoveOn, – and by Bernie and Elizabeth’s campaign. I picture Elizabeth and Bernie, at their rallies and TV appearances, saying “Our president says the state of American capitalism has never been better – so we should re-elect him. I’d like to introduce __ from Asheville, NC, to describe what Trump-style capitalism just did to innocent citizens in that town.” Picture both Elizabeth and Bernie coming to the Friday noon Westgate Plaza rallies that will continue to grow over the next few months – “until every displaced Westgate worker gets a job.”

Our flashmobs in the store (come to #2, if the store is still open then, this Friday) are very fun and exciting and feature the “Power to the little people” music of Michael Franti. Michael loves this town and we love him. Let’s get him here.

On Friday, we danced to Alicia Keys’ wonderful new song about the little people, “The Underdog” – and it will be the cornerstone of our workers’ benefit “storytelling dance party” on February 27 (7-11 at THE BLOCK off biltmore). She seems to have some real heart for this issue. Let’s invite her to come.

Keep the faith, people! This story is exploding – and is just going to keep getting bigger.

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These days all of my identities are converging: whether I am offering a blessing in the grocery store checkout line, offering a prayer in a poem or experiencing the kinship with all life while walking my or a client's dog - it's all the same. It's all Life.

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