Crane Stationery to end long Berkshires run, move to New York

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NORTH ADAMS — A letter that Crane Stationery Co. sent in April to the mayor of North Adams contained the truth after all.

It said that by Sept. 30, all remaining employees of the venerable Berkshire business would lose their jobs, after planned June layoffs affecting 85 percent of the 229-member workforce.

The parent company's CEO, Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., told the mayor, and The Eagle, that the April 29 letter was sent by mistake.

On Friday, exactly one month later, the company announced that it will indeed close its North Adams plant, saying the space is too large for business that has contracted.

Crane plans to move the entire operation to the home of its parent, Mohawk Fine Papers, in Cohoes, N.Y., north of Albany. The name Crane has been associated with Berkshires manufacturing for more than two centuries.

Mayor Thomas Bernard said he received a copy of a news release shortly before it was sent Friday. Bernard said he found the announcement disappointing, but not surprising.

"I'm absolutely heartbroken for the Crane employees," he said. "Their well-being has been the most important thing to me in all of this."

The company said the move was triggered by losses during a shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an earlier message to employees, it also faulted the declining use of paper products in the digital age.

The brand is known for fine stationery and sells through hundreds of small retailers around the U.S., as well as online. Retail challenges, notably for Papyrus, the company's largest customer, now in bankruptcy proceedings, trimmed revenues.

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Bernard, though, said he believes the timing enabled the company to "cynically leverage" a loan it received this spring through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, "and to put some free cash in the company's pocket."

The PPP loans are forgivable if 75 percent of the sums are applied to wages and companies meet additional requirements. O'Connor said in an earlier interview that the loan was for about $2 million. That means the company could be in a position to retain $500,000 of the loan amount as a grant.

The Eagle offered Crane an opportunity to respond to the mayor's assessment of its motives in taking out the loan but did not receive a reply. In a statement, O'Connor acknowledged that the closing will hurt locally.

"We recognize that our departure will be felt by the North Adams community, but at the heart of this decision is our commitment to ensuring that the extraordinary heritage of the Crane brand lives on," he said.

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The news comes weeks after O'Connor accused Bernard of "retaliation" in connection with conditions the mayor placed on Crane's plan to reopen, after weeks of a pandemic shutdown.

Bernard said he was acting to ensure the safety of returning workers in light of the coronavirus. The plant ignored the mayor's orders. It has continued to operate; state restrictions on nonessential manufacturing operations have since been lifted.

"We have spent the last several weeks determining how to reposition our company while keeping the greatest number of employees working," an unsigned statement from Crane said. 

On May 4, after clashing with Crane executives over its plan to reopen, Bernard asked that the company make it clear what its plans are for operations in the city.

"They still haven't accounted for that discrepancy," he said, referring to the letter he received May 1 saying a full shutdown lay ahead.

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Site's future unknown

Bart Robinson, Crane's chief revenue officer, said the company is considering what to do with its properties at 1466 and 1526 Curran Highway, in the city's industrial park. 

The company bought the land and buildings in December 2015. The headquarters building and 9.6 acres of land at 1466 Curran Highway is assessed at $3,334,000. The building, constructed in 1978, contains 73,056 square feet of space.

A smaller neighboring building, erected in 1985, is assessed by the city at $1,122,500 and measures 17,920 square feet in size.

Robinson said in an email, in response to questions, that Crane Stationery will relocate to available space at Mohawk Fine Papers. Through that move, Crane will keep abut 15 percent of its current workforce, he said. 

"We have offered employees positions," Robinson said. 

No date has been set for the end of operations in North Adams, but it is expected to be within months. Though the planned June 19 layoffs were to affect 85 percent of the staff, Robinson said Crane has offered work to "several" employees past that date "as we catch up on production and build inventory."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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