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Employees removed bread from the shelves on Wednesday at the Merita outlet store in Boone as a result of the parent company's closure. Kellen Moore | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2012-11-23 16:36:37
Last modified: 2012-11-23 16:40:00

Merita outlet in Boone closes

The Merita bakery outlet store in Boone closed its doors Wednesday, the latest casualty of the Hostess strikes and shutdown.

The store, located on N.C. 105 Bypass, was one of more than 500 bakery thrift stores to close as a result of the nationwide strike by union workers that crippled the already fragile Hostess Brands.

About 18,500 jobs will be lost nationwide due to the shutdown, which also affects 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers and about 5,500 delivery routes in addition to the outlet stores.

In Boone, employee Brian Barnhill answered the phone Wednesday with, “Formerly Hostess Merita bread.”

Barnhill said the Boone store employed him and one other person along with four truck drivers. The bakery thrift store offered discounted breads and bakery items — often those that were close to their expiration date.

Barnhill, a four-year employee, said he was surprised by the outcome of the labor disputes after watching news about the strikes across the country.

“We just kind of figured they’d end up going back to work and nothing would happen,” Barnhill said.

Instead, the store was open to customers for its final day Tuesday before the employees began moving out remaining inventory, shelves and other items Wednesday.

Lance Ignon, a spokesman for Hostess brands, said the company’s bakery operations and delivery routes closed last week, but the retail outlets were told to stay open as long as they had products.

He added that any outlets holding bread set to expire during the Thanksgiving holiday were asked to donate their items to shelters or homeless organizations.

The final straw for Hostess was a nationwide strike by the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union that started Nov. 9 and affected 23 out of 36 plants.

The company announced that it would liquidate if a sufficient number of employees did not return to work by Nov. 15. The following day, with its demands unmet, Hostess Brands filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to close its business and sell its assets.

After an unsuccessful final attempt Tuesday at mediation with the union, Hostess moved forward with the legal process and received approval Wednesday to wind down operations. The process is expected to be complete in one year.

Hostess first filed for bankruptcy in 2004, listing $450 million in debt. When it filed for bankruptcy again in January, it worked to reduce costs in a number of ways, including new labor contracts that cut workers’ pay and reduced the company’s contributions to pension and health insurance funds.

Rather than accepting the reduced contracts, the workers went on strike. The union blamed Hostess’ ultimate demise not on the strike but on “over a decade of mismanagement,” according to a union memo.

It’s an unfortunate end for the 82-year-old company based in Irving, Texas.

In addition to Wonder Bread and Merita breads, Hostess’ lineup of cake products included Twinkies, CupCakes, Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s, Sno Balls and Donettes.

Hostess leaders have said they will likely sell those beloved brands, enabling them to return to store shelves in the future.