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Creative Memories closes YS shop

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Creative Memories will close its Yellow Springs manufacturing plant at the end of April, concluding The Antioch Company’s 86-year presence in the village.

Thirty-eight employees will lose their jobs at the Creative Memories production facility at 888 Dayton Street, which manufactures paper packs, stickers and other embellishments for the scrapbooking supplier. The work will be partially assumed by a production facility in St. Cloud, Minn., the corporate headquarters of Creative Memories, which is the sole division of its parent company, The Antioch Company.

Chris Veit, chief executive officer of Creative Memories, said that closing the plant would make the company’s operations more efficient, citing declining sales over the past decade and the high costs of running a “a very small manufacturing center very far from our distribution center.”

About 280 employees work at the facilities in St. Cloud, and approximately 100 more employees work in offices in Australia, Germany, UK and Japan. The company’s revenues are projected at $100 million in 2012, according to Veit.

Creative Memories was founded in 1926 as Antioch Bookplate Company by Antioch College students Ernest Morgan and Walter Kahoe as a printer of bookplates and bookmarks. The Antioch Company acquired the St. Cloud-based Creative Memories in the 1980s and became one of the world’s largest direct-sales scrapbook and accessory suppliers, operating facilities in both St. Cloud and Yellow Springs. Because of the profitability of the Creative Memories subsidiary, the Antioch Company was set to reach $340 million in revenues in 2003, according to a News article that year. In 2008 the Antioch Company sold off its publishing division.

But with the rise of digital photography and the decline in the popularity of scrapbooking, sales dropped and though they have, in recent years, begun to stabilize, according to Veit. The sales plunge and accumulated debt from an ownership restructuring drove the Antioch Company into bankruptcy in 2008. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 after restructuring its debt. However, in 2010 a large group of former employees sued the company, claiming to have lost $20 million in retirement funds. The suit remains unresolved.

The Antioch Company moved to its current facility at the corner of Dayton-Yellow Springs Road and East Enon Road in 1974 after operating out of several buildings in Yellow Springs. At its peak in 2003, about 175 employees worked at that facility, according to former CEO Lee Morgan. Today, almost all of the 38 employees work in production.

Veit stressed that the efficiency of the workers is not to blame and that the jobs will not be outsourced. After some equipment is transferred to Minnesota, that facility will assume some production now taking place in Yellow Springs. Other products will be purchased from outside suppliers, he said.

“The employees have set a very high standard,” Veit said of the Yellow Springs operation. “This action has nothing to do with them.”

The Creative Memories facility in Yellow Springs is 94,000-square feet in total, which includes 10,000-square feet of office space that was subleased last year to e-Health Data Solutions and, more recently, about 10,000-square feet leased to Antioch University. Creative Memories now vacates about 35,000-square feet of manufacturing space, 20,000-square feet of warehousing space and a few thousand square feet of office space. The company is looking to sublease the empty space or sell the entire property, which includes about 10 acres of industrial-zoned land, according to Mark LeRud, vice president of operations.

“Right now we just want a tenant,” LeRud said.

Last year the local Creative Memories employees contributed about $25,000 in income tax to the Village of Yellow Springs, according to figures from the Regional Income Tax Agency. They were the eighth-largest contributor to local income tax revenues, after YSI, Inc., Antioch University, Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District, Greene County Board of Education, Friends Care Community, Village of Yellow Springs and Vernay, Inc.

None of the 38 employees reside in the village, according to LeRud.

Village Economic Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Wildman said that, for the village, losing a company that’s been located in Yellow Springs for more than 80 years is like losing a family member, but that she is optimistic the space could be used by another company.

“We always hate to see jobs go,” Wildman said. “But the fact is that the space is wonderful space.”

Wildman said she often receives inquires from the Ohio Department of Development from companies interested in the type of space that the Creative Memories facility now has available. And Wildman believes the facility could complement the nearby Center for Business and Education commerce park.

“Some people would say it’s competition but I think it helps to create a center,” Wildman said. “The more business and the more education we can cluster around that, the better it is.”

Lee Morgan, the son of Ernest Morgan and CEO of Antioch Company for 37 years, said he was sad to learn that the Yellow Springs plant would close and is especially concerned about the employees.

“I was sad for the folks who worked at the factory in Yellow Springs — it will be very hard for them,” Morgan said. “It will be a slight blow to the village in terms of the tax revenue but that’s all pretty mechanical. That stuff can all be measured but the impact on people’s lives, that’s hard.”

Morgan himself closed facilities in Nevada, Virginia and South Dakota during his tenure when sales began to drop at the company, which he said has morphed greatly in its 86-year history. What started as a co-op project among Antioch College students and had sales of $400 in its first year, grew into an international company with hundreds of millions in sales. This presence in the community now ends with the closing of the Creative Memories facility. Looking forward, Morgan said he believes the economic future of Yellow Springs lies in growing small businesses from within.

“Yellow Springs is spawning all sorts of small business, but if they become very large I think it’s much tougher to stay in Yellow Springs,” Morgan said. “As long as they’re small, they stay in Yellow Springs. I think that’s the healthiest model.”

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