Workers optimistic at Merry-Go-Round

January 09, 1994|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Guarded optimism best described the mood of nearly a dozen Merry-Go-Round warehouse workers leaving the Joppa distribution center late Wednesday in the wake of reports that the clothing supplier faces serious financial problems.

The beleaguered specialty retail clothier has been negotiating with major creditors since early December in an attempt to avoid a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

For nearly a year, Merry-Go-Round has been stymied by slumping sales and earnings. The company also took on new debt as it acquired a major competitor.

"Sure, we're concerned about what we've been hearing and reading about the company's troubles," said one employee who asked not to be identified.

He said that there had been no layoffs of permanent employees in his department.

"Only seasonal workers have been let go, and that has happened every year since I've been here," said the four-year employee.

He estimated that there are 300 to 400 people working in the warehouse, which operates two day shifts, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and an evening shift, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m..

Two women workers said they had not been told anything by their supervisors about the company's status.

"I really think they [the supervisors] don't know anymore than we do," said one.

"All of us are hoping the company can get through this crisis," said the other woman. "In the meantime, we just keep coming to work."

Carolyn McNabney, assistant to company Chief Executive Officer Michael Sullivan, said the company employs 1,080 workers at its 1 million-square-foot Joppa-based headquarters and distribution center. Of that total, 350 work in the distribution center.

She said the number of warehouse workers increases in midsummer during the back-to-school rush and again in October for the Christmas shipments. "On an average, we usually add about 200 temporary workers for the distribution center," she said.

Mrs. McNabney, who has worked for the company for nearly 19 years, also said that everyone is confident the present financial crisis will be resolved.

The company's financial problems are a concern to Harford County officials, because it is the county's second-largest private employer. Only the Upper Chesapeake Health System, with 1,600 workers, employs more.

"Certainly we're concerned any time one of the major employers in the county is having financial difficulties," Jim Fielder, director of economic development for Harford County, said Thursday. "I spoke to [Chief Financial Officer] Isaac Kaufman about a week and a half ago, and he was optimistic that the company can work through its problem without having to file for bankruptcy."

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann echoed Mr. Fielder's TTC concern. "A great many people would be hurt economically," she said, "but I'm optimistic the company will right itself."

In an attempt to reverse its slide, the company announced that founder and Chairman Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass has returned a full-time basis and assumed control of merchandising.

Merry-Go-Round fired Stuart Lucas, president of its men's division for 14 years, last month. His departure was part of a major housecleaning in which nine men's merchandising executives were dismissed.

The company has about 1,455 retail stores in 44 states, operating under the names Merry-Go-Round, Ativo, DJs, Dejaiz, Cignal and Chess King.

Nationwide, employment is normally between 17,000 to 18,000, increasing to 25,000 during the holidays.

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