Monday, May 07, 2007

Melted ice cream

Speaking of Ellsworth, the eponymous ice cream maker and longtime fixture of the Spa City’s west side appears to have melted into a thing of the past. The Post Star reported through an unidentified called Wednesday that one of Saratoga Springs’ longest family-run businesses had pulled the plug on its Division Street plant a week or so earlier, laying off all of the workers employed there.

Company officials were deliberately vague about their plans for Ellsworth, as most faltering business owners are. When it’s quite clear to everyone that the ship is going down, there’s no need to draw further attention to the gaping hole in the bow. In the case of Gerald Ellsworth, the company's CEO and third-generation owner of the 74-year-old business, even the ‘overall outlook is optimistic’ talk seemed to have fairly negative undertone.

“For me to comment on it –it’s just going to make it worse,” he told the Post Star. “We just got to get some things straightened out.”

Ellsworth went on to explain in brevity the company’s woes with expansion. More specifically –although not directly referred to by Ellsworth –a fateful move to purchase a former Ben & Jerry’s plant in Vermont during 2002. The move was anticipated to double Ellsworth’s production capacity during a time of unprecedented expansion for the company.

See, in the increasingly shrinking world of small business, owners are often forced to proverbially shoot the moon; in other words, put everything on the line for a nominal chance at making a go of things. No doubt, in today’s world of hyperdistribution centers Ellsworth likely found itself in a position where the business could be slowly bled away by monolithic corporations with bottomless pockets or throw everything on the line in hopes of beating the odds to maintain fiscal viability.

For Ellsworth, the outlook appeared fairly rosy in the beginning. The company reportedly doubled its sales of novelty ice cream items –products like the Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Éclair bars –from $15 million to $32 million over a six-year period ending in 2004. In response to this ramped up business, the company sought two loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand into the plant in Springfield Vt., though neither the company nor the fed ever specified how much cash was on the line for the expansion.

Ellsworth’s tryst in the Green Mountain State was short. In September 2005, the Syracuse-based HSM Packaging Corp. was awarded a $156,421 judgment against the company. Less than three months later, the Vermont plant went on the auction block; company officials later announced their intentions to lay off 40 workers from the Vermont plant. Town officials in Springfield indicated that the company was more than $100,000 in the hole for back taxes.

Taxes must also be an issue for the company’s historic plot within the city proper. With the burgeoning “art district” pushing property values skyward on the west side, it won’t be too long until operating a distribution center on nearly two-acres of prime land will become fiscally imprudent. Already, the property is assessed at more than $809,000 and receives no exemptions or tax breaks.

Meanwhile, the ludicrous battle between Kamp Keehn and the Brothers’ McTygue continues just down the street. True, there’s really nothing the city could have done to prevent Ellsworth from running their business into the ground. But the apparent ignorance among city officials regarding this company’s precipitous decline is troubling to say the least. When queried about the closure and layoffs, city Finance Commissioner Matthew McCabe said he wasn’t unaware of such occurrences.

And where was the city’s mayor during all of this? Well, it’s safe to say she was busy preparing her re-election speech and foisting herself as “the people's mayor” while Ellsworth stocked the unemployment line with dozens of city workers.


Blogger T.R. Slyder said...

That's a great photo of the plant, thanks for including it.

9:22 PM  

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