The week started as all weeks start. The more things change; the more things stay the same, as the saying goes. But, this week wasn’t to be the same.
Thursday morning, a text came in: “I hear y’all got some ice cream makers there today. I heard they’re all at the unemployment office and Yarnell’s locked their doors.” A few minutes later, I knew that it was true. It wasn’t just an ugly rumor. One of the oldest businesses in town, the area’s sixth largest employer, had shut its doors for good.
The shock rippled through town. The news picked it up fast and within hours, my Facebook wall was filled with the same headline from radio local radio stations to the major TV news out of Little Rock. The last ice cream maker in Arkansas has shut down. It’s a sad day for Arkansas, a dismal day for Searcy.
The day was a traumatic one for those that spent their working career at Yarnell’s Ice Cream. Out of the blue, without warning of any kind, employees were dealt the devastating blow of losing their livelihood and way of life in the form of a WARN letter that announced the company’s intention of shutting down immediately due to the inability to attract investors or secure additional operating loans. A quick press conference followed, almost word for word what the WARN letter said, with an added thanks to the wonderful employees that gave the company its successes over the years.
Still, words said out loud couldn’t – and didn’t – ease the blow for the now former employees. Men and women with children to raise, house payments to make, food to buy, utilities to pay could only hear that their next paycheck would be their last. A few just started working there after months and months of looking for work. Many more had worked there for years and years and faced the challenges of being out of work with a sense of despair. Like most who have a job, they were thankful they had theirs. But, now they don’t. Their eyes told it all; their shock palpable. They moved on automatic, without thinking, trying not to feel.
Though shocked, some said that they weren’t surprised. They could see it coming, even though business had picked up as usual for the hot summer months ahead. But nothing was ever said out loud from the top. No one talked out loud about the financial struggles or the questionable decisions or the equipment that never worked or the repairs that were never made. Everyone knew Yarnell’s Ice Cream was a source of pride for everyone, so the things never said never mattered. It is a good ice cream, but no surprise that it is a good ice cream no more.
But, there are a mountain of unknowns. Questions aren’t asked and answers aren’t forthcoming. What are the real reasons behind the end of a well established business? Will the workers receive their last paycheck, through the end of the week, for hours worked, for vacation time? Will final orders be filled? What will happen to all the ice cream sitting in the warehouse? What about the new flavors set to go, the new packaging prepped and ready? Where will all those people find new work?
Now, a day or two later, the rumor mill is ramping up. Now former employees, still very much in the dark, are feeling the uncertainty of it all and saying it out loud. Told they would be paid to the end of the week then learning from the news that they would be paid only for hours worked started the ball rolling. No one knows for sure and household budgets are on the line. For those with little, losing a little means a lot. Fear fuels the rumor fire, and that fire will consume the hope. What hope? There is hope that the company will resume, though no one knows how.
Maybe, just maybe, the things left unsaid will be said. For now, we can only grieve the passing of a piece of our little community.