Phoenix-Area Epic Thrift Stores Close Suddenly, Some Employees Say They Haven't Been Paid

Published: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 9:00am
Updated: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 10:35pm
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Bobbi Degurski, K.D. Colegrove and Aurora Medora hold paychecks from Epic Thrift Stores which they say they have been unable to cash.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
In addition to this closed sign, the landlord posted a lockout notice on the door of Epic Thrift at 35th Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix.

A few years ago, a new player entered the Valley's thrift store market with a plan to redefine the experience with clean, well-organized stores offering on-trend items. But Epic Thrift's plan failed — and it’s creating problems for some former employees.

Aurora Medora unzips her purse and pulls out a piece of paper.

“This is one of my last checks I got,” she said of her employer.

Even though it’s dated June 15, 2016, Medora said she hasn’t been able to collect the $460.33 in more than a month.

“I went to my bank, I went to their bank, I went to PayPal,” she said. “They couldn’t cash it."

K.D. Colegrove took two paychecks to her bank where she said the manager told her, “This is just a piece of paper, it’s not good. You might as well bounce it like a ball.” 

Meanwhile, Bobbi Degurski said she’s been trying to cash three checks worth almost $1,700. 

The checks all came from Epic Thrift Stores where Degurski, Colegrove and Medora worked until last month. That’s also when Epic filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The federal agency monitors publicly traded companies and requires them to report significant changes. 

In late June, Epic reported it had vacated three of its 10 stores and was trying to negotiate settlement terms with the landlords.  

Several messages left with Epic have gone unanswered. And a visit to the north Phoenix address listed as corporate headquarters also brought no response. The door was locked and there appeared to be no furniture or activity inside. 

A second address listed on public documents led to a UPS store in Peoria where people can rent mailboxes. And at the Epic Thrift Store at 19th Avenue and Union Hills Drive in Phoenix, the manager provided an email address which has also gone unanswered. 

A couple days later, the 19th Avenue store was closed and a lockout notice from the landlord was posted on the door. Earlier this month, the Colorado Department of Revenue seized control of Epic’s only store there over a $2,392.00 claim of unpaid taxes.  

“They came in like gangbusters but then they slowed down also about the same rate,” said Jackie Halleen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Goodwill of Central Arizona.  

Since 2002, Halleen said Goodwill has opened at least five new stores every year so they paid close attention when Epic set up shop. Halleen doesn’t know exactly what went wrong with Epic stores, but she does know what works.

“You have to have two kinds of customers. So you have to have a really strong donor base and you have to have a really strong customer base that shops your stores,” she said. “And if you don’t have both those things in combination then you’re not gonna be successful.” 

While Epic executives have not responded to our requests, some details can be found in the company’s prospectus filed two weeks ago with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

In its plan to potential investors, Epic highlighted the business backgrounds of three key company directors: Wayne Riggs, his brother Bob Riggs and Brian Davidson. The trio first worked together at a Riggs Contracting, Inc. founded by Wayne Riggs.  

In 2012, a year after they opened the Valley’s first Epic Thrift Store, the Arizona Corporation Commission revoked the registration for Riggs Contracting for failing to file annual reports. 

Then late last summer, the Riggs brothers formed another construction business, this one called Riggs Companies, LLC. 

During a visit to the Riggs Companies office in Phoenix last Wednesday, the receptionist said she would pass along our interview request. 

Two days later, in a report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Epic’s Board of Directors announced plans to dissolve the company. Its remaining seven stores had closed and all but one landlord had served an eviction notice or notified Epic that it is in default.

Meanwhile, several companies claim Epic owes them more than $1 million. It all makes former employee Bobbi Degurski shake her head. 

“I was having to buy toilet paper and paper towels out of my own money because they didn’t have toilet paper or paper towels and they wouldn’t send us any,” she said.  

Degurski said she’s willing to forgive the $50 she spent on that stuff if she could just get paid what she says she’s owed. 

Medora hopes to see some money before her baby is born next month and Colegrove said she’s trying to stay positive even though she’s burned through savings and doesn’t have money to get her car fixed. 

“It’s just devastating,” she said. But “It’s not devastating enough that it brings me down to not keep fighting though.” 

The women say they’ve called, texted, emailed, even showed up at Riggs Companies asking when they’ll be paid. Now, they’re filing complaints with the Arizona Department of Labor and asking other former employees to join them.