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Harry & David should pay its local creditors

An article appeared in the Mail Tribune on March 3 regarding the end of our company's working relationship with Harry & David. As co-owners of Nice 'N' Easy landscaping and one of the unpaid "creditors" of Harry & David when it entered bankruptcy protection, we have been overwhelmed by the support we received from throughout the community since the article was published.

We want to make it clear that while writing this guest opinion, we strongly hope that Harry & David, a company with deep roots and extensive involvement in this community, survives its current financial problems and continues to employ its reliable, loyal and well-trained work force.

Our company is just one of many contractors, vendors, suppliers, consultants and employees that were not paid for its services when the company entered bankruptcy. Some 17,700 creditors exist worldwide.

We believe the company should have a special responsibility to pay its local debts in simple appreciation of the long-term relationships the corporation has established in the community. Harry & David's majority owner is New York-based Wasserstein & Co., an investment and private equity firm. It is valued at billions of dollars and its financial decisions and leadership are greatly responsible for the failures of the Medford gourmet food and gift marketing company.

It is important that those now running Harry & David understand the financial and emotional wreckage that resulted from past decisions. Many of us overextended ourselves financially because of the trust we had developed in the company. We did not know what company officials knew at the time — that they could not pay their bills. When a company successfully survives a bankruptcy filed in Delaware, it is our belief that it should then be required to pay its creditors or face criminal charges. But this is not how our laws work.

Now that Harry & David has exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, we hope it has a very successful holiday season. Many of us also hope it will again assume its respected role in the community as a major supporter of the arts, social services and education as well as a provider of continued long-term employment for thousands of local residents.

Our company had a very good relationship with Harry & David for more than 18 years. We have many great memories, as do our eight former employees and their family members. It saddens us that a few executives, some with no ties to the community, made the decision to end our contract and those of many others who were affected, while they protected their own jobs. In hindsight, they now seem like the captain and officers piloting the Titanic.

Nice 'N' Easy Inc. is owed almost $34,000. Many contractors, vendors and suppliers are owed much more. We are hopeful that Harry & David, with a new CEO, will assume its responsibilities. Because the company is now able to pay its CEO $25,000 per week and other executives $25,000 to $30,000 per month in salaries, it seems fair, prudent and wise that it do the unusual, regardless of its legal protection from its creditors. Harry & David should pay its debts to those companies and individuals that have been associated with and supported its work for years.

While we understand the intent of the slogan "Happiness delivered," it's important that the company understand that happiness is not all that's been delivered this year.

Beth and John Hallett of Medford owned Nice 'N' Easy Inc. John was a member of the Medford City Council for 16 years and has served on numerous boards and commissions in Jackson County.