Barry Gilliam quietly delivered his last FedEx package in East Hampton on Thursday — the day his contract terminated.
It didn't take long for customers to notice Gilliam and his big smile weren't around. Immediately, there was an outpouring of support from the East Hampton community and a growing effort to get him reinstated.
On Facebook, customers spread the word Friday night, sharing FedEx phone numbers and email addresses to lodge complaints. The message was clear: Reinstate Gilliam on the East Hampton route, or we'll take our business to UPS.
Gilliam, a Calverton resident, delivered FedEx packages on his route from Wainscott to East Hampton Village to Springs for 11 years as an independent contractor, which is how the corporate model is set up. He owns two trucks and has a helper, Jesse Cummings, of Mastic, who delivers mainly to Springs.
On Saturday, Gilliam said he was shocked to learn there was such a strong response to his departure, though as he spoke about the people along his more than 100-stops a day route, the bond he has formed with them was evident. "One of the hardest things, really, I've had to do is to turn around and say this is the end," he said.
Gilliam explained FedEx terminated his contract after the corporation discovered he was out of compliance with its regulations for contractors; FedEx requires its contractors to be listed as an S corporation and his business entity is currently listed as a C corporation.
The problem could have been rectified by the end of the month, but his request for an extension was refused, he said.
He said his business was once listed as an S corporation and only changed when a new accountant thought it was in his best interest to be listed as a C corporation, not realizing the FedEx mandate, Gilliam said.
His managing supervisor first notified him he was out of compliance in June, at the start of the busiest time in the Hamptons and on his route. The company didn't explain what the specific problem was, just that something was not right, he said.
"I have to, no matter what, get the packages out," he said. "I was told the customers were first."
Between his long work days and dealing with a divorce, he simply didn't have time until the end of the summer to go through paperwork and pinpoint the problem. He said he and his accountant figured it out two weeks ago, but were told it was too late.
"I have nothing against FedEx. I just couldn't do it in the time they were allowing me. I needed more time," he said. "I've given them 110 percent. I'm asking them to give me 110 percent."
Gilliam, an East Hampton native, started working for FedEx 15 years ago after working at hardware stores in Amagansett and Montauk. He worked on routes in Sag Harbor and Hampton Bays, until the East Hampton route became available and he purchased it.
He brought with him to the job something his father, East Hampton resident Ben Gilliam, instilled in him back when he was a kid helping his father on a Farmland milk delivery route. "He's the one who taught me it's all about the customers," he said, adding his dad would make him move the milk already in the store to the front of the shelves even though that wasn't their job.
Gilliam joined FedEx during a time when he was looking for a more fulfilling job, he said. "I love it. It's like a puzzle. You have to figure out the best way to deliver. From the time I scanned my first package and delivered it, I knew this was it for me."
He often works 12 hour days — getting up at 5 a.m., getting to the terminal in Holbrook by 7 to 7:30 a.m., sitting in traffic to get to the South Fork, doing deliveries, then picking up packages and bringing them back to Holbrook. The lifestyle isn't easy, especially with a 5-year-old daughter, Addison, but he said it provides well for her.
Valerie Smith, whose store, The Monogram Shop, has been in business 17 years, said she was "appalled" to learn he was terminated. "He is the single most cheerful, helpful and wonderful man I encounter every week. There's no one like him. No one."
"I only ship out with FedEx and it's because of him," said Stephanie Tekulsky, the owner of Steph's Stuff, a locally owned business for 18 years. She said he looks out for her, returning later in the day if her pick-up isn't ready. Once over a busy July Fourth weekend, he kept a huge shipment out until Monday so that it wasn't clogging up her store. "There's no way I could have dealt with it on a Saturday of a holiday weekend and he knew," she said.
Bruce Cotter, the owner of Hamptons Gym Corp which has a gym in East Hampton Village, said Gilliam's attitude is contagious. "I never saw the guy without a smile on his face — he's always good for a honk, wave, a shout out. He's just the kind of guy that when you happened to see him on the street or while receiving a delivery, it made your day a little bit better."
Penny Benbeneck said Gilliam has delivered to her home and work place. She called him "the best advertisement that FedEx could have." She said he always has a smile, gives a wave, courteously opens the door. "I guess what I really want to say is, he is a gentleman —a rarity in that industry these days where things are so impersonal," she said.
"I have never not been greeted warmly by him, sent off with a positive feeling that will last long into my day and bring a smile to my face. He works hard, endures weather, traffic and people and does it with such class."
In an interview with Patch on Saturday, Gilliam saw for the first time the messages people were sharing in the hopes to get him back. He said it was overwhelming. "I feel like the Yankees or something," he said.
He said he wants his customers to know: "I love them. Thank you, thank you. They have no idea how I really feel for them."
FedEx Media Relations did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
The number for FedEx is 1-800-GO-FEDEX (463-3339). The case number started already is 1012742771.