The loss of Shopko stores has been felt across the nation, both by former employees and small-town shoppers. Since June, two letters have been sent to Sun Capital demanding severance packages, one by Shopko employees in partnership with United for Respect and one from U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
“We are writing on behalf of the 14,000 Shopko employees around the country whose years of service and hard work built the Shopko brand that we love,” the employee letter stated. “Many of us have been left jobless and struggling to survive without severance for our years of service, and we are writing to you to demand accountability for Sun Capital’s actions.”
Locally, two Sidney Shopko employees say they experienced a lot of ups and downs, as well unfilled promises of proper compensation upon closure.
“Before either of the stores got told we were closing, our district manager had told us that neither of these stores were touchable because we were so profitable,” said Shania Hoadley, who spent three years working at the south Shopko. “We live in a rural area where people come from Plentywood, Glendive — especially since Kmart closed — and Watford, all over the place.”
Emaline Banta spent a year at the south Shopko as well, before they were both transferred to the north store. The news of the closure and the events that unfolded created an unreliable environment for workers. Banta said their manager was out of town when the news came in, so they heard over the phone that the north Shopko store was closing.
“A couple weeks later we got a call again that said the south Shopko was going to close,” Banta said. “It was a matter of two days before they came in and closed the store down.”
Hoadley and Banta worked at the north Shopko until the very end. They said they had a tight-knit crew and the emotional toll the store’s closure took on them was significant. It was especially difficult when customers would constantly ask what they were going to do next.
“Most of us didn’t know what to do,” Hoadley said. “There isn’t a whole lot of retail positions in this town.”
“We were told we were going to get severance packages. So when we found out we weren’t going to get them, we were upset,” Banta said.
The letter from Sen. Baldwin to Sun Capital stated, “In order to encourage workers to stay on through the difficult liquidation phase ShopKo promised its workers severance pay. Now, as ShopKo’s final stores prepare to close this Sunday, June 23rd, these workers, many of whom have dedicated decades of their careers to serving ShopKo customers, learned that they won’t receive any severance after all.”
While Banta was able to find work soon after Shopko’s closure, Hoadley is still looking.
“I’m trying other job markets, but I don’t want to branch too far out,” she said. “Trying to find a similar wage to what I was getting at Shopko is hard.”
While it’s been a trying time for former employees, Hoadley said she’s also upset about the impact Shopko’s closure has on the community.
“If people needed to get something, they would come to Shopko,” Hoadley said. “Now they have to go to Williston or Miles City or wherever else there’s store. Which means if they’re going out of town, they’ll be eating out of town, which effects the restaurants in Sidney.”
The letter from employees addressed the exploitation of Shopko stores by Sun Capital. “As our company struggled under overwhelming debt, you made sure to pay yourselves dividends, forcing Shopko to take on additional liability... Now Shopko is liquidating and 14,000 Shopko employees and our families are being thrown into financial crisis.”
Banta said she feels angry at the way the employees were treated.
“We stayed and helped close the stores down and then were told that us staying meant nothing to them,” she said. “It’s not all about the money, but a little recognition would be nice.”
As employees hope to gain proper compensation packages, they still struggle to move on from it all.
“It was a big part of my life for a year,” Banta said. “The people I worked with, the customers I helped, it’s going to take a while to recover from it closing.”
Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce did a mid-year review of their strategic plan and revisited a conversation to restructure membership dues during their board meeting Thursday, July 18. Currently, memberships are categorized by number of a business’ employees. The boards wants to change to a tiered system with more wiggle room for businesses to define their memberships. They also discussed clarifying benefits of each level of membership.
“There needs to be a better division so you know where you land as a business,” past president Jeremy Norby said. “The goal would be to eventually get to the point where we don’t have to have so many fundraiser events and hit people up for sponsorships all the time.”
Norby said the board is open with their budget and it takes approximately $150,000 to run the chamber, which needs two people — one who can always be at the front desk and one who can be out in the public for events. The board wants to raise the majority of that money through dues so they can focus on the bigger picture for the community instead of focusing on operational demands.
“It’s a fine line,” Norby said. “Are you willing to pay a $5,000 membership to the chamber or are you better off paying a $1,000 membership and then I just come hat-in-hand every three months and say, ‘Hey, I need $500 bucks,’ and eventually getting my $5,000 that way.”
The board has talked about including benefits with upper level memberships, but haven’t settled on anything definite. They are also pushing chamber members to get away from paying monthly dues and collect an annual fee instead. Having those funds on hand is pertinent to the chamber’s function. Norby said they are looking into an auto-pay/billing system as well.
Current board president Laura Schieber said it has been years since membership dues were updated and the current form is the one they have used since the mid-2000s, with 11 different options for memberships. The board wants to dwindle that down to a more simplified three options: low-level, like a home-based business or chamber supporter; medium-level, zero to 10 employees; and a high-level membership, similar to the coporate membership now.
“To me the real benefit is creating a community for your employees to live in,” Norby said. “That’s a key component to what we’re doing right now.”
The chamber board also discussed the difficulties community business’ have attracting and retaining professionals, like lawyers, dentists, teachers and accountants. Board member Lee Candee with Agri Industries said their best bet is often attracting locals back. Norby said he’s heard from area business’ that often times a candidates family will research the area and decide against moving here. The chamber wants to work toward changing that image.
“That is a major issue,” Candee said. “We have the five locations and when we hire somebody, they want nothing to do with Williston and Sidney, but they’ll gladly live in Billings, Miles City or Powell. They don’t want to move here.”
Norby said he found that notion odd. “I would put us up against Miles City any day as far as what we offer as a community.”
In other news:
New chamber members include Montana Bare Cave, Abbi’s Unique Boutique and STI Architects and Design in Miles City (formerly Stevenson Design).
Director Bill Vander Weele estimated the Ag Appreciation Golf Tournament made rougly $2,000 more than last year, but Sunrise dropped slightly this year. He asked the chamber to begin brainstorming additional attractions for Sunrise next year to bring in more people.
Chamber is working with economic development for a survey on consumers needs after the departure of Shopko. They will push the survey on Facebook and at their fair booth this year.
Volunteers are needed for the chamber’s night serving at the beer garden during fair, which will be Friday night.
Montana Tavern Association state convention is in Sidney Sept. 8-10.
Sidney chamber purchased a tablet and cell phone to use during events for photos, updating the website and app and for live streaming so staff wouldn’t have to use their private devices. The chamber is working on tweaking their app and promoting it.
Bryce J. Thompson, 19, is in custody in Missoula Wednesday night after being arrested on suspicion of the homicide of Alyssa Dodd, 20, which occurred Wednesday in Spokane, Washington. As of Friday, Thompson has been charged with first degree murder in Spokane County District Court and a $1 million bond has been set.
Two women returned to their house early Wednesday afternoon to find a Dodd assaulted and dead, said Spokane Police Department spokesman Sgt. Terry Preuninger. Officers responded to a 911 call at about 12:30 p.m. The medical examiner has determined the cause of death as blunt head injuries.
Missoula County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Thompson and booked him into Missoula County Jail just after 7 p.m., according to county records. He was being held on a fugitive charge and two extra jurisdictional warrants.
1Sidney Country Club will be hosting a glow ball tournament Saturday, July 27, from 3:30 p.m. — 1:30 a.m. Entry free is $100 for non-club members and $80 for club members.
2Hunter education orientation is Monday, July 29, 6 p.m., Richland County Extension office. Online registration is at https://register-ed.com/events/view/131521. No late registration, class is limited to 75 people. If under 18, a parent or guardian must be present at orientation. Must be 10 years old by orientation date to register. Contact Larry Christensen at (406) 489-0589, Ron Sorenson at (406) 488-7664 or Jim Miller at (406) 489-1653.
3On Tuesday, July 30, Faith Chapel Sidney Summer BBQ number three, 34461 CR-112, Savage, 6 — 8 p.m. Join for four Tuesdays this summer as they relax, eat good food and connect with new and old friends. The grill will be supplied — all you need to do is bring a meat you want cooked for you and a side dish to share with others. Bring the family and invite a friend. You won’t want to miss this time together.
4Richey’s third annual Dip-N-Twist Car Show is Saturday, July 27, at 11 a.m.
5Glendive’s Grill and Chill Annual Fundraiser will be Saturday, July 27, an 18-hole best ball scramble, Cottonwood Country Club, Glendive, 9 a.m. A barbecue lunch will be served between 11 a.m. — 2 p.m. Awards announced at the end of play. Call Glendive Medical Center Foundation to register teams of four at 406-345-2627.