Madelaine Worries Employees
The news of the possibility of Madelaine Chocolate Company closing and leaving Rockaway reverberated across the Facebook this week. “Don’t leave” wrote Candy Connor-Valenti on Madelaine’s site. “Please stay in Rockaway” added Ellen Michael-Biener. “Looking to relocate and not close down, I hope!,” said Karen Krupp- McClure.
Last week the company announced they were testing the waters of the real estate market in consideration of selling part or all of their property that stretches from Beach 95th Street to Beach 98th Street between Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Freeway.
Jorge Farber, company CEO, elaborated on what he told The Wave last week. On Monday he said, “I’m not selling the company. We’re not closing.”
The company is working at 50 percent of what it did before Sandy. Only 150 to 175 workers are back at work out of a pre-Sandy workforce of 450.
Selling all or part of the property is an option he said he reluctantly needs to explore. “It’s not definite but it’s a serious consideration,” said Farber.
But what about the employees? As the shift was changing on Tuesday, The Wave was able to speak to Katie who can be found in Madelaine’s outlet store located within the factory. Katie, who preferred not to give her last name, came up from the south and has been with the company for 37 years.
“They make the best chocolate,” said Katie. But while she is a fan of the product, she is worried about management’s decision to test the real estate market. “I’m 62-years old. I don’t know anything else. Who is going to hire me?” She added, “This job took care of me and my family.”
Asked about her fellow employees Katie said, “They are hurt. This is all some of them know.”
She told The Wave that many of Madelaine’s employees have been with the company for 10 to 20 years.
The diverse group of workers, a good number who live in Rockaway, come from many countries. “Unemployment can’t pay rent,” she continued. “Here it costs $1,500 for an apartment.”
According to Farber, Madelaine has experienced $50 million in damages and losses from Sandy. The company received a Small Business Administration loan, a $250,000 grant from National Grid and has been enjoying tax breaks on the real estate since 1998. Still, that isn’t enough, Farber said. While the state, “has been very supportive” in helping the business, the city has been slow to hand out federal money.
Councilman Eric Ulrich had no comment when asked what he could do to help.
In the meantime Katie said, “I’m in a stressful, waiting mood.”