SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - According to reports from various sources, Ashley Marketplace (1 South Orange Ave., South Orange) has experienced lower than usual temperatures recently inside the store. In fact, it has been so cold that a cashier, Sara Hall, stated she was unable to work in such conditions.

When a malfunctioning automatic door was propped open on Friday, February 19, so that cold air and wind was continually entering the store where the cashiers worked, employee Sara Hall complained to management, an action which Hall claims resulted in her termination.

According to Hall, who reported what had happened to her on Friday in the private Facebook group "Swap SOMA Lounge," "the head manager decided to prop the back door open, in this brutal cold. It's 25 degrees with the wind chill, and he props open the door. I promptly closed the door, and told customer service to make a sign simply telling customers to go around to the front entrance, because this door was broken."

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After this, Hall reported that the head store manager, Memet, "screamed and cursed at me like a madman and told me I am to re-prop open the door." When Hall complained that it was too cold for the cashiers to work with the door propped open, Hall stated that Memet insisted the door stay open for customers to be able to use the door, and that he told her "go away do not come back," and she states she was dismissed from her job of two years.

Hall explained, "the cold we had to deal with for years, but being tremendously screamed at for trying to keep the wind out was for me, the worst thing. Memet wouldn't let me get a word in and said he did not care how cold it was, do what he said or get out."
According to Memet, General Manager of Ashley Marketplace, who was interviewed by TAP into SOMA, the store has three heating systems, each heating a different area of the store. Last week, extremely cold temperatures made it "too much" for the heating systems to maintain a warm temperature inside the store.

Memet stated that there was an issue with the automatic doors, in which the automatic functionality was not working on the inner exit door, so the door was propped open to enable customers to leave the store.

Memet said that repairmen had come three times in the past week in attempts to fix the door, but were unable to do so, and that he and other employees had also attempted to repair the door without success. The door was propped open because Memet stated that he was concerned that elderly customers would not be able to push the door open if they also had a shopping cart.

However, Hall stated that Memet never mentioned to her that the door was propped open for the sake of elderly customers. As Hall explained, "Memet screamed the door had to be propped open 'because he said so!'" Hall added, "in fact, in the past when that door has had issues, when we had an occasional elderly customer the cashiers or whoever was around would temporarily open the door for them and help them outside if need be, without hesitation. But the door didn't need to remain open."

In response to employee comments about the cold temperatures inside the store, Memet stated that he had an additional electric line installed to the cashiers stations so that small heaters could be used, and that heaters were recently purchased to make conditions warmer for the employees.

Hall stated that the heaters are tiny, and "do nearly nothing," and that the purchase of them was because so many customers had complained about the cashiers having to work in such cold conditions.
Hall said, "last week when they couldn't keep it warm on the coldest day of the year we didn't have those new little heaters and the door had been propped open until I closed it then, too."

Bob Zuckerman, Executive  Director of the South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA), stated that he has been in discussions with management over the situation and wrote in response to Hall's post in the "Swap SOMA Lounge" Facebook group that he wanted "to assure everyone that SOVCA will work tirelessly to address these concerns until they are fully resolved," adding, "Sara - I'm very sorry about what happened to you and we will do everything we can to help you."

Supporters of Hall and the other store employees have left comments on the Ashley Marketplace Facebook page, some stating they won't be shopping there until the issue has been resolved. As one person posted, "They are always nice and helpful and I like the selection of the store but I will not be shopping here unless they treat their employees in a humane way."
Memet stated that he is doing the best he can and "trying to make it good" for employees.

As for Hall, she said she would work at Ashley Market again "if management could provide a warm, safe environment that was receptive to employee needs. That's crucial."