When Christopher Bartus came into work on the morning of Feb. 3, he got the news that he, alongside the dozens of other employees at Athens’s Earth Fare, wouldn’t be working at Earth Fare for much longer.
Earth Fare — a “natural and organic” grocery store chain which opened in 1975 out of Asheville, NC and has locations clustered around the southeast and midwest United States — officially announced plans to close its corporate office and all of its stores in a Feb. 3 press release.
Bartus said that, with the amount of people working at the store, he is worried about finding a job once Earth Fare closes. He considers Athens “a difficult place to find a job.”
“We’ll have to fight each other for whatever jobs are out there,” Bartus said.
In the press release, Earth Fare cited the company’s struggle to refinance its debt and “continued challenges in the retail industry” as the cause for its decision. Earth Fare explained that all of its stores were beginning to liquidate their inventories, which will cause “very significant price reductions.”
The Athens Earth Fare was instructed not to speak to the press, the management said, but could not clarify who instructed them to not speak.
Bartus said he has “no idea” how the company will start lowering the prices of the store’s products.
In a separate letter sent to employees on Feb. 3, employees were told all Earth Fare stores were scheduled to close within two weeks, but the process could take up to four weeks, Bartus said. Despite the store’s imminent closure, Bartus said he doesn’t know when employees will be laid off.
“Our meat department [is] probably going to run out of meat in the next day or two. So does that mean they let go of the employees because they don’t need them anymore?” Bartus said. “Could be, I don’t know.”
According to Bartus, some employees left their jobs in search of new jobs soon after hearing the news.
Ellie Apostol, a retired Montessori teacher from Ohio who recently moved to Athens, was “shocked” and saddened to hear the store was closing. A frequent shopper, Apostol appreciated the store’s customer service.
“The clientele here is just so much fun to run into. It's a wonderful meeting place with other Athenians, and the quality is excellent. It's sort of like a hub here where people can find things that they can't find elsewhere,” Apostol said.
Despite visiting the branch several times a week, Tracy Bartlett decided to visit the store the day she heard the news of its closing. Bartlett came looking for products at discounted rates.
“I’m really sad about it, very disappointed,” Bartlett said. “It’s a great [place]. I live [within] walking distance, it’s just great to be able to have an organic, natural grocer right around the corner.”
Opened in the late 1990s as one of Earth Fare’s earliest locations, Athens’s Earth Fare is now one of the company's 50 stores soon to shut down.