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Welcome Wagon falls victim to times

October 25, 1998

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On Dec. 31, Wanda Wyborksi and Carol Garling's jobs will become as extinct as the woolly mammoth.

The two women will join 2,200 other people, mostly women, who kept the Welcome Wagon rolling across America for 70 years.

They knocked on newcomers' doors and handed them baskets of coupons, maps and promotional gifts from local merchants as a way to welcome them to their new communities.

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Newark, N.J.-based Cedant Corp., owner of Welcome Wagon and its subsidiary, Getting to Know You, said the company is dropping Welcome Wagon's home visits and replacing them with a coupon book in the mail. The companies will be merged, said Christopher Jones, Cedant spokesman.

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The merger means the loss of jobs for 2,200 Welcome Wagon representatives. About 500 former Welcome Wagon reps, including Wyborski and Garling, have been offered new jobs as Cedant account executives. Wyborski, of Waynesboro, Pa., and Garling, of Chambersburg, said they would accept them.

Instead of knocking on the doors of new arrivals, account executives will recruit merchants to contribute to the coupon book, said Garling.

"These are changing social times," Jones said. "It's getting harder to find people at home. There are more dual-income and single-parent homes," he said.

In 1969, Welcome Wagon representatives made 1.5 million home visits. Last year, they made 750,000. "There's been a year-to-year decline. It's no longer an effective way to do business," Jones said.

"It's going to be a good change," Garling said. "I was leery at first, but it will be better for homeowners to get the coupon book. It's more professional."

There have been no Welcome Wagon representatives in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia or in Washington County for more than a year, according to area Chambers of Commerce.

Barbara Bostic of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Debbie Beaver of Williamsport were among the last in their areas.

"It's just a shame that Welcome Wagon is quitting," Bostic said. "It used to be a wonderful organization. I bought and decorated my own baskets," she said.

"It's not going to be anywhere near as much fun. I don't agree that you can't find people at home anymore. You can find them there on Saturdays and nights," she said.

It was a popular practice among Welcome Wagon recipients to start clubs with fellow newcomers, Bostic said. "They had a big club in Winchester, Va., and a smaller one here in Martinsburg," she said. "The club helped new people get to know each other in their communities."

Bostic and Beaver said they averaged 40 to 50 home visits a month.

Bostic said her typical earnings were $100 to $150 a month.

Beaver was a representative for more than a year until illness forced her to quit last year.

"I loved the work. It was a good program. All of my clients enjoyed my visits and I made a lot of new friends. Welcome Wagon was a fantastic company," Beaver said.

Jones said safety and security of the representatives were becoming a concern.

Beaver said she was only apprehensive on a few home visits because they weren't in good neighborhoods. Welcome Wagon was started in 1928 by Thomas Briggs, an advertising executive in Memphis, Tenn.

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