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With closing of Hagerstown business, Statton family being dismantled

For some, working at furniture company was all they knew

For some, working at furniture company was all they knew

October 08, 2008|By JANET HEIM

For many Statton Furniture Manufacturing Co. employees, their fellow workers not only feel like family - they actually are.

President T. Hunt Hardinge III, 54, started working in the family business while in high school, then took a full-time job after graduating from college. He was one of four generations to work there.

Bill Whittington, 76, became plant superintendent not long after being hired by Hardinge's grandfather, Philo Hardinge, in January 1966. Whittington's three sons have worked at the plant through the years and one is a supervisor in the finishing room.

Whittington's nephew, Bob Rubeck Jr., 58, has worked for the company for 40 years.

Gene Gaver's father started working at Statton in the 1940s and Gaver was one of four brothers employed there.

Gaver, 72, is past retirement age, but has no plans to retire when the company closes later this year.

"It was just in our blood, something we inherited," Gaver said of the family's desire to produce handcrafted furniture.

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Gaver has worked at the company for 52 years, taking a four-year break in the 1960s before returning to the work he loved.

He, along with Hardinge, Whittington, Rubeck and other Statton employees, will be looking for new jobs.

Gaver is saddened by last week's announcement that the company will be closing, but he knew it was coming.

"I always had a great respect for the company, the product. It was top-of-the-line," Gaver said of the high-end cherry home and office furniture he helped produce.

Gaver, an inspector/repairman for Statton, said he considered the company his friend. He added that he would be hard-pressed to find an employee who would have anything negative to say about the company.

"We took pride in it. It's been my life ... it's part of you," Gaver said.

Hardinge said the company has been struggling financially and the decision to close, as hard as it was, was based on several factors.

The trend in the past five to 10 years for furniture to be manufactured overseas using cheaper labor has resulted in depressed price margins for manufacturers, Hardinge said.

He added that Statton's distribution was always to smaller full-line furniture stores, many of which are no longer in business.

Hardinge pointed to Washington, D.C., as an example. Statton used to have 20 stores there that carried its furniture. Now there are none.

"It was hard getting orders in the door. You're always hoping. You don't want to believe it is coming," Hardinge said.

Whittington said Statton Furniture has been a "fantastic" company for which to work. He said he "stuck with the company" because Philo Statton said he needed help with quality control and because of how dedicated his fellow employees were.

"Our quality meant more to people in this plant than volume. That increased sales. It all came together as one," Whittington said.

Rubeck started with Statton at age 17, the day before graduating with the first class from the Vo Tech Center at Hagerstown Junior College. He's held jobs throughout the plant, including the sanding and assembly departments, and working in the office doing costing.

"It's something I always loved. It's in my blood. It's going to be hard to find a new field," Rubeck said.

He will take advantage of the continuing education offered through unemployment services and will move if necessary.

Rubeck said Statton employees feel like one big family. He contemplated a job change a few years ago but decided against it because of his loyalty to the Hardinge family.

"I stuck it out to the end and I'm glad I did. I feel like I've been with every generation (of the Hardinge family)," Rubeck said. "It's very important to me that I did this through my lifetime. I hope I don't end up teary-eyed on the last day."

A final clearance sale is scheduled for Oct. 11 and 12 at Statton Furniture, 504 E. First St., Hagerstown. For more information, go to www.statton.com.

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