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Bread baking tradition broken in Martinsburg

October 27, 2000

Bread baking tradition broken in Martinsburg



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A 60-year bread-baking tradition ended in Martinsburg Friday with the closing of the Schmidt Baking plant, a change that will cost 90 workers their jobs.

Some have been on the job for 20 to 30 years, are in their 50s and are worried about their futures.

Schmidt is consolidating operations into its two modern bakeries in Baltimore, said John Kesecker, production manager at the local plant. Kesecker, who started in the Martinsburg plant 26 years ago as a laborer, is losing his job.

Schmidt bought the bakery at 311 Second St. in 1940 from the Lloyd family, Kesecker said.

"The equipment is old here. We don't have high-speed lines. We just fell by the wayside," Kesecker said.

"The Baltimore plants have modern, high-speed lines. We bake 5,000 loaves an hour here. They do nearly double that in Baltimore," he said.

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The roll-making line was shut down three weeks ago, he said.

Late Friday morning the last few thousand loaves of white sandwich bread, the Martinsburg plant's specialty, were rolling out of the ovens across the cooling conveyors and through the slicers to machines that shot them into plastic bags with labels such as Sunbeam and Blue Ribbon.

The company's 15 trucks and their drivers will continue to operate out of the Martinsburg plant, but the bread they sell will be trucked in daily from the Baltimore plants, Kesecker said. The office staff for the sales department will also stay.

The outlet store in front of the plant on Winchester Avenue will also remain open.

Kesecker expects Schmidt will eventually sell the old building and move its local distribution center to a new site in the area.

Schmidt offered its employees good wages and benefits for the area, he said. An average worker earned more than $15 an hour.

Plant workers are represented by the Bakers, Confectionary Millers Union, Kesecker said.

He said the company is providing long-term workers with generous severance packages, but all benefits will end in December. The company is also providing references on request.

Ed "Pete" Smith has worked in the plant for 28 years in the sanitation and receiving departments. He also does inventory and keeps track of what comes in.

"This hasn't really hit me yet. It just sneaked up on me," he said. "Looks like I'll have to find another job, but I don't know where."

Jim LeMaster is 54. He's been with Schmidt for 33 years, has done just about every job in the plant and said he will look for part-time work in a grocery store.

His plan is to move to Florida with his wife as soon as she retires from her government job in about a year. In the meantime he will be added to his wife's health insurance, he said.

"I'm not looking for a full-time job so I'll be OK, but a lot of these guys won't be," he said.

LeMaster said he is sad to see the bakery close.

"A lot of us grew up in here. Like one boy said, this is like the family leaving and we're going someplace else.

"I guess it's just one of those things."

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