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Barnes & Noble Implies Coronavirus Layoffs Are Inevitable

"This is a devastating situation in which to find ourselves," the company's CEO wrote to staff in a letter obtained by VICE.

by Alex Norcia
Mar 18 2020, 7:38pm

LightRocket via Getty Images

National book chain Barnes & Noble preemptively disclosed its plan for a forthcoming layoff strategy to employees on Tuesday, ahead of what seem like inevitable store closures due to the national economic chaos spurred by the global coronavirus pandemic.

"With the closure of stores, we are obliged to make the hardest of choices," CEO James Daunt wrote in a note to staff and obtained by VICE. "The truth is that we cannot close our doors and continue to pay our employees in the manner of Apple, Nike, Patagonia and REI. They can do this because they have the resources necessary; we, and most retailers of our sort, do not."

Daunt told his staff that, should store locations have to close their doors, staffers will "first make use of their Paid Time Off." After that, employees with a year or more of service will receive "up to" two weeks of pay. "Temporarily, and with sincere regret, on closure we lay off all those employees impacted with less than 6 months employment on the day of closure," he added. (Barnes & Noble did not immediately respond for comment.)

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"This is a devastating situation in which to find ourselves and we understand the personal impacts of such action," Daunt wrote. "When a closed store is permitted to reopen, we will do so, and we intend to rehire."

Companies of all sizes have been scrambling over the last week as the coronavirus pandemic has led to shutdowns and a sudden unwillingness to enter brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes & Noble. Last Friday, Daunt predicted the crisis would cause an "unprecedented" decline in sales at the company, noting that it would likely have to "cut costs" in order to "weather this storm."

"No one knows by how much our sales will decline, nor for how long," Daunt wrote in a separate note to staff on Friday. "We do know, however, that the drop will be unprecedented and that we must assume this will be measured over a period of many weeks, and possibly of months."

Barnes & Noble, which has struggled ever since the rise of online booksellers like Amazon, hired Daunt in 2019 from the British bookstore chain Waterstones to turn things around. For the past two years, he has set out to make the stores smaller and more intimate—much like independent bookstores, where people could gather and browse.

Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed reporting.

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