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November 22, 1992|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Securities and Exchange Commission company reports

Those who stayed witnessed a pathetic unraveling of a once-powerful business. "I compare it to being a cancer patient," says Amy Farrell, a 19-year employee. "It gets worse, until you die."

Today, the factory is just another vacant piece of real estate in the state's glutted market. A broker who is trying to sell it says more interest has been shown in a nearby Sweetheart warehouse. Apparently, there is still demand for empty shells.

Meanwhile, former employees have been tossed into a state economy ravaged by recession. Of the nearly 200 who registered with a special state-sponsored assistance program, many are still struggling to get new jobs.

Still, former Sweetheart employees, a family, get together frequently. A recent reunion dance in the nearby American Legion Hall continued until the tired maintenance man turned off the lights. Ex-workers said they stopped in for a moment and then couldn't bear to leave.

Indeed, as many former employees try to move on from Maryland Cup, the closeness created by "Uncle Joe", is a formidable barrier for employees confronting the harsh modern world. "Who wants me?" wonders 60-year-old Virginia Staponites, whose only job has been in Wilmington for Sweetheart. "It was my life."


1911: Predecessor to Maryland Cup founded in Boston by Joseph Shapiro and his three brothers. Company sells ice cream, then expands to bake ice cream cones

Headquarters moves to Baltimore

1932-1936: Company diversifies, making matches and straws. Sweetheart, the name used on products, is inspired by picture of two children using straws to drink a milkshake from the same glass.

1947: Company executives vote, 14-to-1, against entering the cup business. But Joseph Shapiro votes yes - and the cup business is born.

1961: Maryland Cup goes public, consolidating 32 companies controlled by Shapiro family members.

1968: Joseph Shapiro dies.

1983: Maryland Cup bought by Fort Howard, a Wisconsin-based paper manufacturer. At the time, Maryland Cup has 33 plants, more than 10,000 employees and a net worth of $250 million.

1983-1985: Fort Howard boosts capital spending in cup

business, while cutting costs through layoffs.

1986: Customer service deteriorates and cup sales start to slide. Fort Howard acquires Lily-Tulip, cup-maker with net worth of $108 million.

1988: Fort Howard itself acquired in leveraged buyout by Morgan Stanley for $3.9 billion.

1989: Fort Howard spins off cup business as Sweetheart Holdings. Business has 15 U.S. factories and more than 8,000 employees.

1991: Sweetheart turns a profit on operations, but saddled by debt, net worth falls to -$95 Million.

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