Company officials have remained mum on the company’s future as they struggle to hold on. A June 4 letter from company President Mitch Keating to all employees participating in the company’s benefit plan said that all benefits under the plan had been terminated immediately.
“Due to extenuating circumstances and after much consideration Mitchellace has been left with no choice but to terminate the Employee Benefit Plan and all benefits and insurance coverage provided for within the plan,” the letter said.
Keating went on to say that all existing claims were still the responsibility of Mitchellace and that the company was working on a plan to facilitate this.
“In the meantime, we ask that everyone remain patient while the company works through these difficult times,” Keating said in his letter.
Keating did not at first respond to several phone messages from the Portsmouth Daily Times requesting more information on the difficulties. A few days later, however, he said by phone that he capitalized “Plan” in the letter because it referred to “that one particular benefit plan.” He did not elaborate on the other plan or plans the company offers.
“I would appreciate it if there is not a negative article (about the letter). I would just as soon it not be a part of the news,” Keating said. “We are continuing operations.”
The company began making shoelaces in Portsmouth in 1903. Dave Mitchell took over the factory in 1912 and ran it for the next 50 years. Kerry Keating, husband of Dave Mitchell’s granddaughter, took over operations in 1962 after Dave Mitchell died.
The firm bought the closed, six-story Williams Manufacturing Co. building in 1979 and moved operations there from the old building just down the street.
In 2003, Kerry Keating’s sons, Steve, Tom and Mitch, acquired control of the company.
“The boys run it. I’m retired,” Kerry Keating said by phone Tuesday. “I cannot speak for them. However, I can say they are working on a project, and it’s not over ‘till it’s over.”
Other than those few comments, the company has remained guarded against discussing the future of the factory.
“It’s not from choice but from necessity (that Mitch Keating can’t discuss the situation),” Kerry Keating said. “We are trying to work through things.”
The company began the year with about 80 employees.
A round of employee layoffs began during the third week of June.
On Tuesday afternoon, lights appeared to be out on all six floors of the factory. Only three vehicles were parked inside the fenced and gated area where employees park.
Eight vehicles were parked in front on the office entrance.
Employee applications were still being offered in the foyer outside the main offices. Zachary Durham of Columbus had just walked in to discover them, filled one out, and dropped it through a slot in the top of a wooden box on the wall.
“I’ve been working construction work in Columbus but got laid off,” Durham said, noting that with a child on the way he was “looking for any kind of job I can get.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.