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Hearon Circle Frets Losing Mrs. Smith’s Bakery Business

January 28, 2008

By Trevor Anderson, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

Jan. 27–Schwan Food Co.’s decision to pull the plug on its Mrs. Smith’s manufacturing plant in Spartanburg could harm surrounding businesses at Hearon Circle.

Schwan announced Jan. 17 it would shutter the plant at 7001 Asheville Highway on March 31, eliminating more than 500 positions.

In the wake of the news, business owners near the plant are voicing their concerns.

“When you lose a customer base like that, it’s going to be hard,” said Steve Detwiler, manager of Wendy’s at 7114 Lone Oak Road. “We’re expecting to see a drop in business.”

Detwiler said he is on a first-name basis with a number of Mrs. Smith’s employees and has many of their orders ready for pickup at lunchtime each day.

“The best thing we can do now is target another customer base that’s underdeveloped,” he said.

Mike Hicks, owner of Carolina Barbecue at 7115 Lone Oak Road, said Mrs. Smith’s accounts for a large part of his catering business.

“It’s going to hurt,” Hicks said. “It’s just a shame to see that many people lose their jobs at one time.”

Trish Mitchell, owner of Hearon Circle Check Cashing on Lone Oak Road, cashes checks for about one-fifth of the plant’s work force. She stays open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, as employees get paid at 7 p.m. and go straight to her store.

“There won’t be any need to stay open longer when (the plant) closes,” she said.

Mitchell has worked on Hearon Circle her entire career and has seen the area go through its ups and downs. She was employed at the plant when it was the Girl Scout cookie-maker Flowers Baking Co., which closed in 1998.

She knows many of the plant’s employees personally and actually heard the news of the plant’s closure before workers were told in a company meeting at 2 p.m. Jan. 17.

Mitchell said she is remaining upbeat about the possibility of another bakery coming in soon.

“The employees there now are absolutely the cream of the crop, and you won’t find any manufacturing workers that are better or care more about putting out a good product,” she said. “Hopefully another bakery will realize that and come get the factory and its work force for a steal.

But if it doesn’t reopen, we’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

Mark Thompson, manager of the USA Economy Lodge at 7136 Asheville Highway, across the street from Mrs. Smith’s, said 10 of the plant’s employees live out of his hotel, but he does not expect to see a large drop in business. He, however, is concerned about his neighbors.

“It’s not just about what’s going to happen to the 525 employees that work at the plant,” he said. “It’s also about the impact it will have on employees at surrounding businesses that provide goods and services to plant workers.”

Thompson said those “goods and services” could be anything from food and gas to cigarettes, lodging and groceries.

Schwan’s Senior Vice President Bill McCormack said the plant’s production would be relocated to Mrs. Smith’s other manufacturing facilities in Atlanta and Stillwell, Okla.

Some employees would be given the option of moving to other Schwan facilities or given assistance in finding a new job. That, however, is little consolation for Hearon Circle’s remaining businesses.

“I don’t fully understand (Schwan’s) reasons for having to move, but their employees are in here every day,” said Milton Butler, co-manager of The Junction restaurant across from the Mrs. Smith’s plant. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know we’ll miss them terribly.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

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