Turners Falls Paper Company closes abruptly

  • Southworth paper manufacturer closed its factory in Turners Falls along the power canal. August 30, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The parking lots were empty Wednesday afternoon after Southworth paper manufacturer closed its factory in Turners Falls along the power canal. August 30, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Southworth paper manufacturer has closed its factory in Turners Falls along the power canal. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Gazette
Thursday, August 31, 2017

TURNERS FALLS — The Turners Falls Paper Company, formerly known as the Southworth Company, abruptly ceased operation Wednesday, laying off employees and leaving questions about the future of the building the company occupied in the Strathmore complex.

“It was a shocker. At 6 o’clock in the morning that’s not what you expect to hear,” said 21-year employee Ricardo Aponte, who was driving from Southworth’s Agawam facility to Turners Falls when his boss called and said to turn around.

“They gave us paperwork, some places to apply,” Aponte continued. “I’ve got a family of five, a mortgage, car payments. Right now I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m taking it all in, and waiting to make my next step.”

The company did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but on Thursday sent a press release announcing the layoffs.

“Southworth Co. announced today that it had laid off employees at its locations in Turners Falls, Agawam and Seattle,” the release said. “The layoff is a result of the corporation’s inability to obtain financing for its current operations from its secured lenders.”

The release also said the company is working with lenders to secure that current orders are completed. The release was sent by John Leness, president of the Madison Park Group, another Southworth brand based in Seattle.

Charles Blanker, who said he had worked at the historic mill since 1973, told a story similar to Aponte’s. Blanker said company executives informed the Turners Falls staff about the closing when they got to work at 9 a.m.

The announcement was sudden. But closure wasn’t completely unexpected. Blanker said they were told the company no longer had the financing to continue operations.

He said around 60 people worked at the Turners Falls location and that executives had names of other places that may be hiring, but didn’t have other employment assistance.

Following the abrupt closure, state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is asking out-of-work employees to call the Franklin-Hampshire Career Center for job assistance.

Rosenberg said he was surprised to hear about the closure and looked to see if any state agencies had been contacted by the paper company to arrange help with unemployment services for the employees. None had, so those state agencies began mobilizing Thursday. The career center can be reached at 413-774-4361.

The company traces its history to 1839 and has been a privately owned company. Southworth bought the Esleeck Paper Co. and the mill in 2006. Esleeck had opened its mill in 1900.

In 2012, Southworth announced that it would sell one of its brands to another paper producer, Neenah Paper Inc., but kept its Turners Falls mill running. In that same timeframe, Southworth bought the Madison Park Group, a marketer of greeting cards and specialty stationery in Seattle.

It’s unclear who owns the Turners Falls building, which is part of the Strathmore Paper complex on the banks of the Connecticut River in Montague. The town owns most of the complex, acquired through tax delinquency of previous owners.

Public town records list Southworth Company, with an address of 265 Main St. in Agawam, as owning eight properties in town worth a total of $2,578,300.

“Looking forward, the town is hopeful that the building will quickly return to productive use and will work to actively support that outcome,” Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis said.