Managers at a failing Northgate Mall retailer have drawn national attention for posting a sign complaining about the abrupt closure of national teen and women’s clothing outlet Wet Seal and the layoff of nearly a dozen employees.
“I didn’t want to be spokesperson for a movement but felt compelled to speak out when I saw what was happening,” says a tearful manager Andrea Friesner, who has worked for the Foothill Ranch, Calif. company for the past eight years.
Friesner, the store’s manager, and two of her assistants, decided to post the large yellow sign over the weekend after learning the company would shut dozens of stores around the country.
The sign reads “#ForgetWetSeal” and “#BoycottWetSeal”, and details a number of grievances including unpaid vacation and sick time.
Wet Seal has been in dire financial shape for the past year, posting widespread losses and advising it would close 60 stores nationwide as their leases expired.
But Friesner says despite repeated inquiries to management throughout the holidays, she was repeatedly told by her district manager there was nothing to worry about, most recently the day after Christmas.
“We were told everything is fine, this is what we anticipated, you don’t need to look for another job, you’re fine.”
Friesner says she, in turn, reassured her employees, despite ever-dwindling inventory that went unstocked as the company slashed prices to 80 percent off everything after Christmas.
Then she was told to join a conference call last Friday, where she was informed the store would be closed immediately and she would have to let everyone go the following day.
“My family was very abruptly ripped apart. I had to call an emergency meeting and let these girls know I never meant to lie to them, and I’m so sorry but tomorrow is your last day.”
Pictures and stories of the sign have spread nationwide, drawing widespread attention. Friesner says she’s stunned by the response.
She says she posted the sign in solidarity with her employees, as well as the hundreds of others around the country suddenly unemployed. She says a number have medical conditions or were pregnant and counting on the benefits and maternity leave they had accrued.
“I don’t want to be a martyr. I sell T-shirts. I’m not doing brain surgery here. I get that people get laid off every day and my situation is not any more important. I just felt the need to empathize with these other girls because Wet Seal teaches to have each other’s backs and be a family.”
Friesner and other managers were offered retention bonuses to stay on for several days and wrap up the closure of the store. She says her district manager has told her the sign is inappropriate and unprofessional and ordered it taken down.
“I feel that what is happening is both inappropriate and unprofessional after giving eight years to the company,” she says tearfully.
Friesner says repeated calls to corporate headquarters and human resources have gone unanswered, and she’s frustrated with just several more days left before she’s out of a job, she has no idea whether the company will honor any of its commitments such as paying unused vacation time, or even make good on payroll.
“It’s very degrading to come to work and see a store you have worked so hard for completely ransacked. It’s even more degrading when there’s no official word from corporate.”
Wet Seal has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
The sign is one of a number that have now popped up at stores around the country created by former employees blasting the company.