Due to financial hardships and a sudden change in ownership, Team One Food Store and the Citgo gas station on South Broad Street closed Monday, leaving more than 14 workers unemployed.
Mick Ritter, owner of Team One Food Store since he founded it in 1990, said in an interview with The Collegian that he could not comment on anything related to finances, litigation, or other affairs with the gas station. Watkins Oil, the property owner for the station’s on-site convenience store, is shutting down the business temporarily to remodel and reopen Ritter’s old store.
“All I can say is that, as of right now, Watkins Oil is taking control of the operation,” Ritter said. “But I cannot disclose my location right now.”
Ritter was also a previous part-owner in Broad Street Downtown Market and Tavern, which closed its doors in late January due to high operating costs and unpaid property taxes. Dave Watkins, owner of Watkins Oil, was also a part owner of the pub and restaurant. Ritter would not comment on any of the particulars with Watkins Oil, and said he didn’t want to give any more information.
“Never missed a payroll, every employee was paid for every hour worked,” Ritter said in a message.
Ritter said he owed no money in rent to Watkins Oil, and, according to the Hillsdale Treasurer Clerk’s office, all property taxes since 2014 have been paid.
Watkins Oil declined numerous requests to comment, but employees from the company were seen doing maintenance on gas pumps and cleanup on the building on Wednesday.
Ritter’s was one of four Citgo gas stations between Hillsdale and Jonesville, and its sudden closure came as a shock to many local residents. Levi Shilling, who would come in three times a week for a soft drink, said he was surprised that when he drove up to the store on Monday he couldn’t get any gas.
“I went into the station Monday morning to get a pop and all the pumps were bagged off,” Shilling said. “The clerk said there was no gas and she said Mick Ritter was no longer managing and David Watkins was.”
A former employee of Team One, who requested to remain anonymous, said employees were informed by Ritter and management during a staff meeting on Sunday that they’d be closing their doors starting noon Monday, but employees’ jobs would still be secure.
“Mick told all the employees at Team One that he’d filed for bankruptcy at that meeting,” the employee said. “And that while Watkins Oil was taking over they’d be closed for only a couple of days while they switch their systems over. We wouldn’t lose any pay or vacation time and it would be a smooth transition.”
Asked about bankruptcy, Ritter said his attorney advised him not to comment.
The employee said they met with management at Watkins Oil the following day, and Watkins Oil said it wouldn’t be as simple as Ritter and Team One management said it would.
“Watkins Oil told us that they ran into some legal issues and they didn’t know how long it would take. Maybe a couple days, weeks, or even months,” the employee said. “They said ‘We are going to strongly encourage you to file an application with us, and you should also file for unemployment because as of noon today you all are unemployed.’”
In the wake of both Team One and Broad Street Downtown Market and Tavern’s recent closures, customers and employees have stated numerous complaints with Ritter’s management. Hillsdale resident Joseph Hendee said he would go into Team One everyday and it was apparent the business was struggling.
“I was in that store every morning,” Hendee said. “The women at Team One would tell me that their paychecks bounced and they had to pay themselves out of the till. Almost every day we talked about Broad Street closing and they told me it was dragging the gas station down with it.”
Broad Street employees also voiced similar problems with Ritter’s management. Natasha Crall was the former manager at Broad Street Downtown Market and Tavern from November 2013 to March of 2014, and said, based on her experience, she was not surprised to see Team One close suddenly.
“There is no conceivable reason a gas station should fail,” Crall said. “All I can attest to is Mick’s history of alienating vendors when I was at Broad Street, and that we had shutoff notices for electricity on occasion among other issues. If he ran Team One like he ran Broad Street, then what happened is no surprise.”
Some of Ritter’s former employees, however, expressed sympathy for his situation.
Penny Wingate met Ritter in 1990 and was hired to serve as the first manager of Team One Food Store. She said she left in 2009 to help Ritter open Broad Street along with her husband Chris Wingate.
“In all due respect for my former employer I will not speculate his financial position or anything else that caused him to make this difficult decision,” Penny Wingate said. “I do know he is at retirement age, and although I don’t believe this would have been his plan, it is not surprising to see him close up. Running a 24-hour store is tough work.”
Several employees have filed for unemployment and also submitted applications to work for Watkins Oil. But the uncertainty of when the gas station will reopen scares some of the former employees.
“Everyone is scared,” the employee said. “I had a job, and then on Monday, I didn’t. Neither do the 14 others who worked here.”