When Crumbs closed and I was suddenly unemployed

crumbs bake shop

Taylor Swift’s anti-Midas touch strikes yet another national retail chain. via Facebook

As a budding journalist/writer these posts aren’t all that pays the bills, if at all. Like so many freelancers, I had a second job in the service industry, serving coffee and sweets, in this case, at Crumbs in Brooklyn. Emphasis on the had. This past Monday, after coming home from a shift, my boss called me to let me know that Crumbs was no more and neither of us had a job.

It happened so suddenly I was shocked, exhilarated even. One retailer who doesn’t appreciate its employees down, a bajillion more to go. For the whole company to go under is one of the most dramatic and epic of ways to lose your job. Not every day does a fellow employee get quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

I would have filed for unemployment immediately, but instead I rushed to the store I knew best to see my former co-workers at their last shift and grab as much stuff as I possibly could haul home.

We had to have a proper sendoff replete with beer, a seasonal ale to remember the summer we all lost our jobs at the same time. We swapped stories of how we found out, not trying to hide our half-finished beers from customers. We worried aloud if Crumbs’ intentions to file bankruptcy would mess with our ability to file unemployment as it had with those at ReBar. But Crumbs had too many employees to pull of that stunt. At least we hoped.

There we were my old co-workers. Also, there were Crumbs bags filled with supplies: toilet paper, paper towels, cupcakes that wouldn’t be sold, all grabbed in order to soothe our unemployment wounds just a little bit. We took everything we could from the store, under the impression that Crumbs can’t pay their debtors back with the loads of unused toilet paper, leftover Starbucks cups and paper towels hidden in every store.

I was even tempted to call my roommates who had a van, so we could take the $3000 espresso machine, but ultimately decided against this. If Crumbs had anything of value at this point it wasn’t the cupcakes, but the heavy-duty espresso machine outfitted in almost every coffee shop, and thus easily unloaded on the black market. For this reason, and this reason alone, my former manager was sure they would miss it and so we left it alone.

So here I am bereft of legal employment. Past 30. For all of the Facebook posts of friends talking about how much you’re going to miss Crumbs, nostalgia has a way of changing your actual recollection, because as staff we didn’t need sales projections, we knew from our experience that the stores were not as busy as they used to be. Yet, we were still shocked at how right our predictions would prove to be.

We didn’t all love it there, but there were certainly memories to be had of favorite customers, orders and co-workers. The language of Crumbs will be one I will never forget- Devil’s Food, the Squiggle (which customers mistakenly called The Hostess), Signature size versus classic, a tastepack featuring 12 mini cupcakes that could be yours for only $19.95, hearing “How big is 7’?” without laughing. I’ll also never have my opportunity to yell at the people who told me they “don’t like cream cheese frosting.” Guess what? If you’ve eaten any kind of birthday cake, you’ve eaten cream cheese frosting! And you probably licked the frosting off your fingers, you fake foodie.

The service industry is where I started, but not where I plan on ending. When I can mention my work and not mean espresso, I’ll be sure to remember where I started. Hopefully when I’m not scrapping by on tips for beer money I can walk into any store and feel a sense of camaraderie (or at least empathy) in what it’s like behind the swinging metal doors.

As a writer the only thing I can do now is write my own story. Brooklyn’s too expensive and the rent is too damn high for me to create a story in which I mope around feeling sorry for myself though. I have writing assignments that I used to have to hammer out after a shift that started with me waking up at the crack of dawn, but now I have all day to work on them. Well, I can hammer them out after pounding the pavement for another barista job, at a smaller place that knows a thing or two on how to stay open. Then it’s come back home, use my extra time to submit pitches and copy, and cap my hard efforts with a rousing, soul-soothing beer.

2 Comment

  • Actually just for reference, most birthday cakes use either a buttercream (most common) or whipped cream frosting. Cream cheese is pretty rare unless its red velvet.

  • I’m a former retail employee (now just a regular office dweller – it’s only better in some ways) and I can say with certainty that that sense of camaraderie may fade a little but it probably will never go away completely. And you’ll always be able to tell who’s worked in retail versus who hasn’t by how they treat salespeople. Always.