CVS layoffs affect wider Blackstone Valley economy

Anne Jalette, who owns a hardware store in Woonsocket, says many of her customers are employees at CVS. (WJAR)

CVS announced Thursday morning a wide-spread layoff affecting hundreds of employees in Rhode Island right before the holidays.

Most of those employees work at the CVS headquarters in Woonsocket, which has 4,500 total employees. Of those employees, 250 will clean out their desks and be gone by the end of December. Some may choose to leave Rhode Island entirely.

With so many businesses interconnected in the Blackstone Valley, 250 high-paying jobs lost means a lot of families will have to figure out a new budget.

"We have a lot of customers that come in here that are employees," said Anne Jalette, who owns a hardware store in Woonsocket. "And we know their families, or their friends, a lot of good people."

Jalette is worried she'll lose business from the 250 "good people" who will be losing their jobs at CVS's Woonsocket headquarters. That customer base has kept her family-owned business alive for decades.

"We're worried … Our customers are our friends. They're usually our customers for life," said Jalette. "When something like this happens, we worry about the people that we know that work there. We hope that everybody lands on their feet."

CVS says it has to "tighten its belt" by eliminating workers, saying it needed a "leaner" and more "efficient" company. The move means smaller, local businesses, might have to downsize as well.

"If our business is affected in any way by an economic downturn, like this could be … Sometimes it can affect what we can share with the community," said Jalette.

Other industries are also keeping a close eye on the layoffs.

In Pawtucket, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council knows the benefits of having a huge corporate neighbor like CVS, but predicts the effects of the job loss will be felt in much of Southern New England.

"If you take money out of the economy, it has a devastating effect," said Robert Billington, president of Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. "It has a ripple effect. Right on down. Everybody gets hurt, it's not just CVS. When people lose their job, that money is taken out of the economy, and that's taken out of all the retail sales from the region."

Good paying, white collar jobs, soon to be removed from the local economy, and the businesses that rely at least partly on CVS employees to stay afloat.

"That's not a great thing. CVS has been an amazing supporter of the Blackstone Valley," said Billington. "The employees are totally engrained in what we do here."

Billington is worried the workforce loss will shake the region.

"The people that are being laid off have disposable income. That gets spread out throughout the entire southern New England region, which is important to us, especially the small businesses in the Woonsocket, Cumberland, Lincoln area that rely on the employees coming out and spending that money," said Billington. "It just won't be there to be spent. That's a blow. That's a blow to the local economy for sure."

Back in Woonsocket, Jalette hopes the laid off workers find new jobs quickly and keep their homes in the Blackstone Valley.

"Hopefully, maybe they'll, this is just a temporary situation," said Jalette. "Maybe they'll be able to hire them back down the road."

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis declined NBC 10's request for an on-camera interview.

Many employees outside the headquarters on Thursday told NBC 10 News that the layoffs have been "hush-hush" inside the buildings. Some said they learned about the layoffs through NBC 10's news coverage.

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