Stunned and somber, Merry-Go-Round employees filed out of the clothing retailers' headquarters yesterday afternoon like family members leaving a funeral after being told the company was shutting down immediately.
Workers at the Joppa headquarters, where 630 are employed, said they were told by the company's management at a 3 p.m. meeting that they had until 5 p.m. to clear their personal belongings from desks and files.
And, according to one employee, they were told there was no guarantee there would be any severance compensation -- for anyone. Word on that, they were told, would come later.
Some workers, employees said, cried at the meeting. Most wore the look of shock.
"It's a sad day for the company and everybody in there," said Wanda Andrews, who worked as a cashier at the company's cafe for 4 1/2 years.
In the company parking lot, employees cried and hugged one another as they carted hurriedly packed boxes and grocery bags full of personal belongings to their cars. Deputies from the
Harford County Sheriff's Department, which said it had been asked to be on hand in case of employee unrest, looked on.
Said payroll department employee Michelle Myrick,"It's been coming for a long time. It's good to finally have an answer."
It was a wrenching week, employees at the company headquarters said. Rumors had swirled of the company's impending doom. Anxiety was high.
"The company is like a family," said Ms. Myrick, who worked at Merry-Go-Round for seven years.
L Few, she said, blamed management for the company's collapse.
But the news was nevertheless rough, employees said.
"I'm not so much surprised. But I am hurt and disappointed," said Joey Fountas, who has spent the past 13 years building a career with the once high-flying clothing retailer.
As he awaited word at the Merry-Go-Round store at the Eastpoint Mall, he recalled working his way up from the stock room to district manager of 10 stores in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.
Mr. Fountas said he believed deeply in the company and had hoped it would pull out of its slump after his stores reported strong sales this past Christmas season.
Now, Mr. Fountas has much to worry over. He is married and the father of a 3-month-old baby, and his future is uncertain.
"I'm concerned for myself, but I'm equally concerned for the people in my stores," he said.
Employees at the company's retail operations, Merry-Go-Round, Attivo and Cignal, were told the company would handle its own liquidation, he said. That likely means store employees will have at least several weeks of cushion before they are out of work.
Like many of the company's retail store managers, Mr. Fountas got word of the company's liquidation plans from TV.
Mr. Fountas said he was told around 2 p.m. to be on hand for an important word from the company around 3:30 p.m. yesterday. He said he was called by his regional manager and told of the liquidation plan at 4:10 p.m.
But he already knew the company was doomed. News of Merry-Go-Round's plans to shut down was broadcast on CNN, national radio news programs and even the Internet early yesterday afternoon.
Sharon Huber, manager of the Merry-Go-Round store at the Eastpoint Mall, said she wasn't worried about the prospects of finding another retail management position. But she is glum about Merry-Go-Round's demise.
"It was a great company. They really treated their employees well," she said.
Not everyone was shattered by yesterday's news.
Ed Winnick, a planner with the company for 1 1/2 years, said he planned to put the bad news behind him by taking a vacation.
"It might sound strange," he said, "but I might take my wife and kids to Disney World."