One of the county’s — and certainly Chickamauga’s — oldest businesses has closed its doors for the last time.
After 106 years of operation, lights are off and production lines are still at Crystal Springs Print Works as the company’s annual July 4th hiatus is being extended indefinitely.
“There are no excuses,” said Steve Tarvin, the plant’s owner since 1983. “I’d say I wasn’t a good enough businessman to make it in today’s financial climate.”
Tarvin said there are about five companies in the U.S. that operate facilities similar to Crystal Springs Print Works, “but there isn’t enough business between them to keep one plant running full time.”
While there is no consistency in the business and risks far outweigh rewards, Tarvin said that was not always the case.
For decades after its opening in 1909 as Crystal Springs Bleachery Company, the plant was the town’s major employer and Chickamauga grew to become a typical Southern mill town.
But a shifting textile industry made it ever more difficult to maintain profitability and the local plant had been on shaky financial footing for several years.
“Until 1976, the plant had as many as 1,200 employees,” he said. “Then it was about 400 up until about 1981.
“When we bought the plant in 1983 there were about 200. That number dwindled over the years until there were between 95-100 on payroll and, then, last September, it was down to 66 — we’ve gone from 1,200 (employees) to zero in 37 years.”
Tarvin said there is simply too little business for a company like his to stay competitive in international markets.
One product which the company proudly made was the camoflague material used in uniforms worn by troops in Afghanistan.
“We make the best at what we do but can’t continue to operate a losing proposition,” he said. “This was going to be like last year. If we stayed open we would’ve ended the year in the red.”
The company is not filing for bankruptcy protection and there are several options that will be explored in the coming weeks and months, Tarvin said.
“We might sell the business or we might downsize and reopen,” he said. “But we will no longer be operating as a finishing facility.”