Wonder Bread, Hostess to close Jamaica factory

By Ivan Pereira

After more than a century, the Wonder Bread and Hostess factory in Jamaica will be closing down in January, but Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he would work to find a way for the community to have its cake and eat it too.

The head of Hostess Brands said changing market conditions and the factory’s conditions were the reasons for the closures, which will mean the loss of 200 jobs. The Hostess outlet store that operates at the site, however, will remain open for the time being and continue to sell products that are made at other factories, according to a representative from the company.

The more than 140-year-old factory at 168-23 Douglas Ave. was in need of modernization and the corporation could not afford the large undertaking, according to Brian Driscoll, the chief executive officer of Hostess.

“It is always a difficult decision to close one of our facilities, but during this slow economic recovery, we must carefully evaluate all options and take prudent steps to make our system more efficient and balance productivity and demand,” he said in a statement.

The corporation has informed the state and city Labor Departments about the closure and will work with the agencies about benefits and retraining for the affected workers, who include bakery and transport employees. Sales personnel, bakery outlet sales employees and some administrative positions will not be affected by the closing, according to a Hostess representative.

The building will be closed on Jan. 7 and all Hostess goods will be shipped to New York stores from out-of-state factories, the company announced. The site will then go on sale, according to a Hostess representative.

Comrie, who represents the district where the factory is located, said he was disappointed with the corporation’s decision to shut down the factory on Jan. 7 not only because it employed a lot of people from the area but it was also a staple of southeast Queens for generations.

“We are very disappointed. I’m concerned about what will be replacing it as well,” he said.

The factory was established by the Shults Bread Co. in the 1870s and it ran the business until 1921, when it was sold to William Ward’s United Bakeries. The factory was sold again to Interstate Bakeries Inc., the Hostess parent company, in 1995.

“Growing up, I always had that smell of the bread throughout the community,” the councilman said.

The Hostess company tried to shut down the factory three times during the last 15 years because of strict competition from its modern factories in Pennsylvania, but community protests and help from elected officials prevented the closures, according to Comrie.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was able to secure a multimillion-dollar restructuring deal that gave the factory more life. The councilman said he would reach out to Schumer and other leaders to see if there can be any way to keep the facility open.

“I hope there is a chance it could be saved. We’ll see what we can do,” he said.

Despite the loss of the factory, Hostess will still have a presence in southeast Queens.

The outlet store that operates at the factory site will continue to be open and sell Hostess products until a new business takes control of the property, according to the company. Once the sale happens, the outlet store will be relocated to a new site that will most likely be within the neighborhood, a Hostess representative said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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