Some businesses hurting after IP mill closure

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FRANKLIN—The phone used to ring regularly at Joe’s Pizza and Pasta Palace for takeout orders.

That was before International Paper Co. announced last fall that its Franklin mill would close, eliminating 1,100 jobs.

Now, restaurant owner Joe Misseri’s phone rings a lot less.

Misseri said Monday he has experienced a 25 to 30 percent drop in business with the loss of International Paper, which was within walking distance of his restaurant. Misseri is concerned.

“We have to think a little bit … to stay on the positive side,” said Misseri, who has owned the restaurant for 32 years. “Hopefully, more jobs will come to the mill.”

On the other side of town, Mike Martin shared a different story.

“We’ve had our two best months back to back,” said Martin, general sales manager for Mike Duman Chevrolet Buick at 1201 Armory Drive. “I think most of the people from the mill have bounced back and have found work.”

The dealership, which has been owned by Duman for just about two years, sold 73 vehicles in May and 75 in June, Martin said. Eighty percent were used vehicles.

He attributes the sales to financing incentives that include zero percent interest for up to six years on some new models.

“Local credit union interest rates are as low as they have been,” Martin added.

He admits he was concerned upon learning about IP’s closing.

“But people need to buy cars and drive cars,” Martin said. “It seems a lot (who have found jobs) have to travel. (We’re selling) a lot of small cars.”

Jay Patel has seen a 5 to 10 percent drop in business since the layoffs at IP began. Patel manages Holiday Food Mart, an East Second Avenue convenience store that sits in shadows of the defunct paper mill.

In the mornings, IP workers would come in for coffee. At lunch, they bought cold sandwiches and food from the hot case, and at the end of their shifts, it was cigarettes and beer.

Patel, who has not laid off any of his eight part-time employees, is concerned that his business could continue to drop.

“People don’t have the money to spend,” he said. “They are moving from here, going to a different town. Anywhere the jobs are.”

At Schewel Furniture in Armory Plaza, it’s been a rollercoaster.

“Every time they announced a layoff, things went slow for about two weeks, really slow,” said Manager Kevin Insull. “After two weeks, people would start to come back slowly. Then they would announce another one, and the bottom would drop out again.”

Insull believes shoppers are watching their money and anticipates a slow turn-around in the economy.

“People won’t spend money if they don’t have a job,” he said.

Insull has taken the closing of the mill with a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the future of the 23,000-square-foot retail outlet, which has been in town since 1989 and also carries appliances, lawnmowers and televisions.

“I wasn’t sure what total impact it would have,” Insull said. “What’s going to happen is going to happen.”

As for Misseri, whose decision 20 years ago to move Joe’s Pizza closer to the mill paid off, it’s also been a wait-and-see game.

“We were located very close to the paper mill,” he said. “I’ve gotten some impact on my business, just like anybody else in town.”