Pa. factory closing ends way of life for some

May 04, 2001

Pa. factory closing ends way of life for some

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - When the Mercersburg Apparel factory closes today it will end a way of life for the 20 women and one man who work there, some since the plant opened in 1954.


For Cindy Lockbaum, 57, it's the only job she ever had. Lockbaum has worked there since high school.

She said the closing means more than just the loss of a job; some workers are close to retirement anyway. The real pain will come from the separation from fellow workers who were as close as family.

"Some of us had the same doctor," Lockbaum said. "Sometimes we went shopping together and out to restaurants. We shared family crisises with each other. No one knows how hard this is.

"Oh, my gosh. I'm just not sure what I'm going to do. It's pretty hard. I'm going to miss the girls. I guess we'll still try to get together sometimes."


The factory first opened in 1954 as the Mercersburg Dress factory.

Life-long worker Donald Bivens, 57, of Mercersburg, the fabric cutter and only man at plant, said the company was sold to Tri-Clothing in 1980 and again in 1988 to Tanner Co. of North Carolina. Donald Crawford of Rutherfordton, N.C., bought the plant in 1994.

Crawford said Thursday that he had hoped to keep the factory open for two or three more years so most of its employees could reach retirement age. "This wasn't our choice. We beat the bushes for customers, but it's hard to survive domestically anymore. Everything is being done overseas. Twenty years ago you could see a thousand textile plants from Hagerstown, up 81 to Philadelphia. We're probably the last one," he said.

When Crawford bought the plant it had about 40 employees. The number dwindled over the years through attrition as the work started to disappear. Mercersburg Apparel's last product line was making stewardess uniforms for the airline industry.

The last shipment goes out today. Crawford said the 6,000 square-foot factory building at 23 E. Seminary St. is for sale.

Crawford also owns O'Susannah Apparel in North Carolina. He said that plant has about 40 garment workers and is holding its own because of a more diversified product line.

"We're okay for now, but we're not as busy as we have been," he said.

Doris Unger, 64, who ran the Mercersburg plant for Crawford, worked there before she left high school. Like Lockbaum, Unger said the factory became her life outside home. Her employees supported her when her husband died three years ago and when she struggled through two bouts of cancer.

"I don't know what I would have done without those people. We were like family," she said.

"Doris was closer to me than my own sisters," Lockbaum said. "Anyone who had a problem went to her."

Her workers knew never to call Unger after 7:30 p.m., her usual bedtime. "I've been going to work at 5 a.m. for years," she said.

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