BIDDEFORD – Kathy Pelletier of Shapleigh worked at the Lowe’s home improvement center in Biddeford even before it opened in 2007.

She loved the job. Considered her co-workers a second family. Relied on the health benefits to augment Medicare for her husband, a former tool-and-die maker forced into early retirement three years ago because of medical issues.

At 58, with a birthday coming up in December, Pelletier planned to continue at Lowe’s until retirement.

“This, I felt, was my job security,” she said. “I really felt this was it, my last job I was ever going to have.”

On Sunday night, Lowe’s closed its Biddeford store for good, laying off 101 full- and part-time workers. About 30 of those former employees gathered Tuesday afternoon in the council chambers of City Hall to hear from Mayor Joanne Twomey and a rapid-response team from the state Department of Labor.

In a meeting lasting a little more than an hour, the laid-off workers learned how to file for unemployment benefits, options for continuing their health insurance and possibilities for career training.

Pelletier had heard some of it before, having filed for unemployment years ago, but it was good to learn about updates and new programs, she said.

“And it was nice to see everybody,” she said.

Jessica Chamberlain, 21, is a senior at the University of New England who worked as a customer service cashier at Lowe’s for two years. She set up a Facebook page for the group to stay in touch with each other.

“Even though it kind of tore us apart, it kind of brought us together at the same time,” she said. “It really was like losing a family. Being there for two years, people you see every day, you’re not going to see them anymore.”

Chamberlain said she hated the fact that there was no notice, that her manager hadn’t even known what was coming Sunday night.

Employees were summoned to the lumber aisle, where about 15 chairs were set up as well as overturned plastic Lowe’s buckets for additional seating. Managers gave each employee a packet. Those receiving packets not marked with an X were told to clear out their lockers and leave within 30 minutes.

“What they did to us was cold,” said Bob Hanks, 47, of Hollis.

Sherri Baud, 46, of North Waterboro was coming up on her fourth anniversary with the store. She said she wouldn’t work for another big-box store, particularly one with a recruiting pitch “so rah-rah and team-oriented and we’ll take care of you,” she said. “Corporate America, their consideration is making their dollars…. They have a home. They don’t care. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”

And yet, even with the shock and sense of betrayal, Pelletier would return in a heartbeat.

“I loved working there,” she said. “I would still work for Lowe’s again. I’m still in shock about it, but I’m starting to get over it.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:
[email protected]