Crisfield, one of the unluckiest towns in Maryland of late, got some good news over the weekend from a Maryland-born Chicagoan looking to come home some day: The defunct Mrs. Paul's frozen seafood and vegetable operation there has been purchased and will be converted to a boatyard and manufacturing plant.
When Mrs. Paul's closed two years ago, almost 250 jobs were lost. About a week later the Carvel Hall Cutlery plant closed, taking employment from another 68 people in this Lower Eastern Shore town.
A year earlier a fire burned two blocks of Crisfield's Main Street. And two weeks ago a jury ordered the mayor and three councilmen to pay almost $400,000 to a business owner for damages arising from a botched land deal that Crisfield tried to orchestrate after the fire.
But things are looking up for the town. Last year an investor reopened the Carvel Hall plant, with state help, and it now employs 45 full- and part-time workers.
And last weekend Chicago-area businessman James Love, a native of Monkton in Baltimore County, closed a deal to buy the 5.1-acre Mrs. Paul's property and turn half of it into a boatyard, "boatel" and marine maintenance and supplies store.
The other half, which includes the food-processing building, will be a processing or manufacturing plant, Mr. Love said yesterday.
He is talking with several potential tenants to occupy the building and use it for food processing, said Mr. Love, an engineer who owns the Western Springs, Ill.-based WSE Inc., a holding company whose subsidiaries build cryogenics equipment, industrial gas facilities and food-processing machinery.
The boatyard is available for business immediately, said Mr. Love, 58, who has designed and built several boats.
He said he's accepting contracts for redesign and lighting work at the site.
Robert Long, who managed the Mrs. Paul's plant, has been hired to run the new operation.
Mr. Love said his travels had taken him to Crisfield in years past, and he recognized the depression the area has been suffering because of the layoffs. "I'm approaching retirement age, and my desire is to come home to Maryland," he said. "Maybe I still have my toes in Chesapeake mud.
"The thing that's best for me is what's best for Crisfield," he added. "And what's best for Crisfield is a whole lot of jobs."