More than just a cookie maker

By NICOLE GUGINO

OBSERVER Assistant News Editor

SILVER CREEK – Petri’s Baking Products is one of the largest employers in Silver Creek, but the impact of the plant’s impending closure is far-reaching.

Petri’s has been a partner with the community for many years and has made charitable donations to countless area organizations. Now with the prospect of the cookie plant closing, the community will feel the impact on many levels.

HISTORY

Armand Petri began making sugar cookies in his home on Buffalo Street in Silver Creek in 1935. The company got its beginnings in 1945 when it was a bakery operated by a partnership of four people.

In 1950, Petri took total control of the business and with just two assistants moved toward exclusively making cookies.

In 1959, Petri’s Homelike Cookies had 62 employees and was located on Central Avenue in Silver Creek.

In 1963, Petri purchased the Goodell Property at 30 Main St. and expanded its existing plant as well as installing a 200-foot oven which could produce 2,500 packages of cookies per hour.

In 1966, Petri’s expanded its operations, opening a plant on Franklin Avenue in Dunkirk. In 1973, the Dunkirk plant, which produced 40 types of cookies and cream horns, moved to a location on Brigham Road.

In the 1980s Petri’s Baking Products was bought by Norman Transportation Lines Inc. of Buffalo. Armand Petri’s son Richard Petri served as the president and chief operating officer during this time until later being appointed as chairman of the board.

In May, 2012 Petri’s was acquired by Ralcorp Holdings Inc., owner of Carriage House in Fredonia and Dunkirk.

Six months later, ConAgra purchased Ralcorp in a $5 billion deal which will close in April.

On Jan. 3 the bad news was given to Petri’s and Carriage House Dunkirk employees that Ralcorp decided to close the plants. The WARN Act notice, released about a week later, stated the closing will result in 228 terminations at Petri’s with 35 to be laid off within two weeks of April 4. The entire plant is projected to close by summer 2013.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

The economic impact of the loss of 228 local jobs is “a punch to the gut” for the Silver Creek community, as County Legislator George Borrello said upon hearing the news.

Other local officials agree. Silver Creek Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ljiljanich said it is a “sad time” for many families in the district.

“Over 30 families in the district are impacted by the layoffs. Our building principals and teachers have been reaching out. It is a very difficult time and our number one concern is the families who have lost jobs,” he explained.

Hanover Supervisor Todd Johnson called the news “devastating.”

Petri’s owns 13 parcels of land in the town of Hanover for which the assessed value in 2012 was $1,136,600. This equates to $14,117 in county taxes, $17,810 in village taxes and $20,393 in school taxes for a total of $52,321.

Johnson said besides the direct impact of losing jobs and tax base, other area businesses are also going to feel effects.

“It’s going to drastically affect the other businesses in our community. The banks, pizzerias, Rite-Aid, the groceries stores are all going to feel the impact of those people not shopping or getting their lunch locally. I haven’t gotten the final numbers of how many employees live in the town, but it is a possibility some will relocate to find other employment,” he said.

Borrello has been involved in a team effort at the county and state level to try and salvage the situation.

Borrello has said there were hints from Ralcorp that area closings may happen, but at the same time denied it.

“Ralcorp was doing one thing and saying another,” he said at a Silver Creek Village Board meeting.

He said he believes the silver lining to the situation is now everyone knows where Ralcorp really stands, so that work toward some solution can be done.

He said the team which consists of the County Executive Greg Edwards, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, Senator Catharine Young, Empire State Development and Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, are working on options for change now or options after closing the plant.

Borrello said the best case scenario would be to have another cookie manufacturer step in and restart production at the plant. He the CCIDA is working on a selling packet to possibly facilitate a sale when the time comes. However, this is contingent on ConAgra not stripping the plant of equipment, something officials do not know will or will not happen at this point.

“We’re not going to give up. We are going to do what we can to turn things around or find someone else to operate it,” Borrello said.

Silver Creek Mayor Kurt Lindstrom refused to comment on the economic impact on the village saying conversations are ongoing and he still has hope something positive will come out of the situation.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

Although the impact on local jobs is overwhelming, the closing of the plant also translates to the loss of a longtime community partner in the village of Silver Creek and surrounding areas.

“Having such an outstanding community partner has helped breathe new vitality into the village of Silver Creek and made us better for their presence,” Lindstrom said.

He noted Petri’s and the Habib family, the owners before the sale to Ralcorp, were supportive of village efforts on many occasions.

“The Habib Family has been very good to the village of Silver Creek and stepping up in time of need to help out in many ways. The Habibs were outstanding in helping the village survive the 2009 flood. When the County NRCS declared eligibility for riprap funding, they stepped up and paid for the village’s 25 percent share which was a tremendous relief after the heavy financial burdens incurred in the flood.

“When there were vandalism issues in the Village Park, Petri Baking Products and the Habib family once again stepped up again and agreed to finance the hardwiring to allow the village of Silver Creek to pay the lesser bill for the cameras and installation,” he added.

Petri’s has donated product and funds to many area organizations including local fire departments, 4-H, the Red Cross, the RO Foundation, the Anderson-Lee Library, the Kiwanis Club of Silver Creek, the Laurel Run, Dunkirk’s National Night Out, the Special Olympics, Silver Creek school events, village of Forestville events and much more.

Johnson, who is also chaplain for the Silver Creek Fire Department, said Petri’s has always been very supportive of the Fire Department.

“They have always been very generous and gone above and beyond. They were always the first to donate product for any raffles or dinners we held,” he said.

Matt Bogosian, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Silver Creek, said Petri’s has also sponsored Kiwanis Club events like the Childrens’ Fair and Christmas in the Park since the beginning. Petri’s notably donated cookies for children to decorate at Christmas in the Park.

“It is a loss for sure,” he said. “It’s not just a loss of jobs, they were also a great supporter of our community, especially anything involving children. Petri’s support of the community and the children was greatly appreciated and will be missed.”

Petri’s Director of Operations David Bagwell could not be reached for comment on this article.