By Patrick Donachie
Elmhurst Dairy, a fixture of Jamaica and one of the premier producers of milk in New York state, announced Wednesday it will close and discontinue its operations. For the first time ever, milk will not be bottled within the city limits, according to a statement released by Elmhurst announcing the closure. CEO Henry Schwartz lamented the closure and the loss of jobs for 273 people.
“My family was dedicated to trying to keep the plant open long past the years that it was economically viable because it was the wishes of its founder, Max Schwartz, that future generations of the family continue the business,” he said. “The family did so at a very high cost but is unable to do so without ongoing losses.”
The company was founded by Max and Arthur Schwartz at their father’s dairy farm in Elmhurst. The company eventually moved and expanded to a facility in Jamaica about 80 years ago. Over the decades, the business expanded to fill 15 acres at the site at 155-25 Styler Rd. It become the largest milk plant in the New York metro area and eventually the only remaining one in the city. Elmhurst distributed more than 5.6 million quarts of milk a week to 11 million customers per week at its height.
Several farms upstate supplied milk for the facility, and the company has provided much of the milk for New York City public schools.
Market swings and regulatory shifts changed the mark for city milk processing plants, however, until Elmhurst Dairy’s Jamaica plant was the only remaining facility bottling milk in New York. Schwartz said he and the rest of the Elmhurst staff tried to find a way to break even in the market, but continued to suffer losses.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) released a statement expressing his regret about the closure and frustration with the slow movement of progress in negotiations to help Elmhurst survive.
“I, along with other local elected officials, tried repeatedly to work with city and state agencies in order to ease the regulations imposed on Elmhurst Dairy. Unfortunately, that regulatory burden made it impossible for the company to compete with out-of-state vendors,” Comrie said. “I hope that the 273 hardworking employees of Elmhurst Dairy find opportunity under new ownership.”
In 2011, Starbucks discontinued a partnership with Elmhurst which involved the coffee chain using the dairy plant’s products in its city locations that many worried would harm the plant. Comrie said the facility had difficulty bringing its trucks from upstate due to the weight of the contents, and the company found it difficult to maintain a competitive edge in the market. He said it was not surprising the facility had closed.
“They were an important employer in our district,” he said.
In the statement announcing the closure, Schwartz said the company hoped to re-use the facility in a manner beneficial for the city and the surrounding Jamaica community.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona