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Blenko Glass Co. staffers hope plant can reopen

Post Time:Feb 24,2009Classify:Company NewsView:339

MILTON -- Blenko Glass Co. should know its future by the end of the week.

"We have to make a decision this week basically because we're running out of inventory, and it's not right to keep everybody up in the air about everything," said Assistant Vice President Katie Trippe.

She said the company has been trying to work out a deal, but wouldn't release details Monday. She did, however, said that the company needs an investor to avoid filing for bankruptcy and said that by the end of the week, Blenko will know "one way or another which way we're going."

"Everybody is very nervous," said Randy Rider, a production supervisor and finisher who has worked at Blenko for 28 years. "Everybody is quiet and drifting off, thinking too much about what they're going to do.

"It's scary -- most people have been there most of their lives. ... I have not one clue what to do next. I've thought about it, but I don't know."

Blenko announced Jan. 30 that it was shutting down production, after its bank accounts were emptied by a gas company to which it was court-ordered to pay $500,000.

The hand-made glass manufacturer was sued four years ago by Big Two Mile for gas payments due, and the court entered the judgment against Blenko in September 2005. Since then, Blenko and Big Two Mile could not come to agreement about how to make payments on the $500,000 owed, and Blenko instead invested money into the company hoping that it could turn a profit and begin to pay its debts.

Things were turning around, company officials said.

Company President Walter Blenko, who lives in Pittsburgh, and his nephew Don Blenko of Wellesley, Mass., invested more than $2 million for upgrades to return it to profitability. And the company's losses in recent months had been reduced, Walter Blenko said.

When it closed last month, it had some big orders pending, including glass covers for New York Subway lights, and a large order of glass bricks for an architectural installation at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"They're still sitting on file with the hope that we're starting back up," Trippe said. "We've explained to all our customers what's been going on. They've been positive, keeping orders on file with hope. That's good because if we do get started back up, we're not dead in the water. We still have potential to put out those orders."

The state of West Virginia could help, "But they have to see a future for the company before they put the effort into the company -- and that's understandable," Trippe said. The state could help with business loans, grants and matching grants.

Twenty six of the company's roughly 50 employees remain, mainly shipping department employees, office workers and employees in the Visitor Center, which is Blenko's gift shop and remains open to sell the last of its inventory.

Workers are "just hoping and praying," said Blenko shipping supervisor Mary Kinnard, who's been there 25 years.

"You walk in and think, 'Is this going to be our last day or not?' But you keep praying that they can work it out," she said. "It's eerie because you're used to hearing the furnaces, and it's silent.

"I have enjoyed working at Blenko Glass. It's always like a family. Families squabble once in a while, but it's like a family."

Aside from missing the glass and their fellow employees is the fact that it's not a good time to be looking for a job, she said.

"With the economy the way it is, it's scary to know you have to go out and find something, and you have thousands out there looking with you," Kinnard said.

Blenko has helped Rider raise his two kids, and though it has had hard times, it truly was making progress, he said.

"We've gotten it going the way we wanted and started to turn the place around," he said. "We had more orders for January and February than we've had for the past 10 years. It's really sad."

And if it were to shut down for good, it would affect more than Blenko employees, Rider said.

"It's not the 48 people who work here, it's the hundreds around the country who make their living off what we sell," he said. "They're calling us from all over saying, 'I hope you stay in business."

Source: The Herald-DispatchAuthor: shangyi

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