Dear Friends of the Depot,
The Board of directors of the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse is excited about the reopening of the Depot under the leadership of our new executive director, Jasmine Fallstich. However, we also recognize that there has been some distress in the community over accusations published in the media and on social media platforms by former employees.
As the Depot is a 501c3 non-profit organization, our mission is the “North Star” that we must follow. With that in mind, we remain committed to renewing and enhancing the longstanding mission of the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, which since 1979 has been to reduce waste of useful materials, and to supply those materials a low-or-no-cost to local artists, educators, students, and the general public. As we seek to rebuild and recover from the difficulties of the past year, our goal is to expand outreach and program development in the months and years ahead.
Before we can do that, we know that we need to re-establish our relationship with the community. We acknowledge that there was friction and misunderstanding among the staff prior to the closure, and that the stress created by the Depot’s increasingly dire financial situation was difficult for all concerned: staff, Board and management alike. The Board of Directors has chosen to focus on the future of the Depot and its mission, rather than dwelling extensively on pre-COVID issues or disputing the details of the organization’s crisis since it closed due to the pandemic in March of 2020. However, there are facts that can and should be shared more publicly.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Depot to close in March 2020, there had been serious financial problems. The Depot was losing a large amount of money every month and had only a few months’ reserve left before we would have had to close our doors permanently. As a Board we looked at a variety of options over the previous two years to increase revenue so we could continue to serve the community. Unfortunately, none of these experiments or initiatives turned the tide.
When COVID-19 hit and we had to close the store, we furloughed the staff for two weeks. In that time it became clear that we would not be allowed to reopen for an extended period of time so we made the difficult decision to lay off the entire staff. We did this to minimize expenses and to allow the staff to take advantage of the enhanced unemployment options available at the time.
In May 2020 we applied for and were thankful to receive a PPP rescue loan to help us weather the storm until we could reopen. The PPP loan was given to many small businesses, and rules regarding the repayment and eligibility for forgiveness of the loan have been in flux since the loan was granted. Because we were unable to safely reopen and rehire in the timeframe defined by the PPP loan we will be forgiven only a portion of the funds and the remainder will need to be repaid. There is no malfeasance with regard to the PPP loan. It was used as intended as a lifeline during the shut-down to pay rent and other expenses that did not stop with the closing of the store, as well as employing a small number of staff to keep the organization running.
A few months into the shut-down it became clear to the Board that the Depot would not be able to reopen with the same staffing structure, as the initial reopening would be extremely limited and overhead expenses would have to be minimized until there was a clear path to a new business model for the store. We knew that we needed to be transparent with the staff about how the Board was viewing the crisis and the likelihood that many jobs would not be restored in the future. It was at this point that a second letter was sent to former staff by email in August 2020. An excerpt follows:
“Even before the onslaught of COVID-19 led to closure of the store over four months ago, it had become clear that the Depot’s traditional business model was not financially sustainable. The lingering pandemic and its extreme effects on retail businesses, as well as the complications of receiving donations of used goods, have only served to compound our challenges going forward. While we remain committed to finding a way to continue the mission of the Depot as soon as we can, it is unclear when that will be or what staffing level we will be able to sustain.
With all of this in mind, we strongly encourage you to pursue other employment opportunities which may arise for you. We also hope that some form of enhanced unemployment and/or stimulus benefits will be reauthorized and made available soon, and for as long as the overall economy is weakened by COVID-19”
Throughout the shut-down the East Bay Depot was in the midst of a major organizational transition, including the retirement of long-time executive director Linda Levitsky, recruiting and hiring a new Executive Director, evaluating alternative business models such as operating with an all-volunteer staff, and preparing to safely reopen the store in the midst of a global pandemic.
During this 11 month closure, five employees were rehired and two new employees were brought on board. In the late fall, in preparation for the store reopening, store staff job listings were publicly posted — with more hours and a higher rate of pay than previously offered for starting positions. While former employees were welcome to apply for these positions they were not explicitly encouraged to apply or given preferential consideration. Organizational changes needed to be made in order to remain viable, and automatically rehiring the legacy employees who had become accustomed to a work culture that was no longer sustainable would make that change much more difficult.
On February 13th the East Bay Depot reopened its storefront on a limited basis, Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6pm, with just five employees. Consistent with the August 2020 email to staff, the Depot made the decision to hire fewer workers on a full-time basis, rather than more than 15+ workers on a part-time basis, as was the case before the pandemic. This restructure is necessary for the Depot to remain in business.
While the Depot Board acknowledges a disagreement in recent years over how decisions should be made (i.e. the traditional hierarchical non-profit structure vs. a suggestion posed by staff that a co-operative model be considered), as well as other points of contention with staff around managerial policies and practices, the Depot has never departed from its core mission of salvaging useful materials for artists, teachers, and the broader community. Given the Depot’s commitment to its 40+ year mission as a haven for the arts, for education, and for environmental protection, along with its hiring of a new Executive Director and commitment to finding new ways to survive and thrive, we call upon readers of this statement to visit the Depot and see for themselves whether our mission has changed.
With some genuine regrets from the past, we are focused on the future of creative reuse and community engagement, and we welcome the community’s patronage and support. We are open Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6pm and offer private shopping appointments. Donations are also being accepted by appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board of Directors President