Pool maker prepares to close doors

Eastern Home plant, stores to be sold as creditor pulls out

20 employees remain

Layoffs have taken more than 125 workers by surprise


March 04, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Operations are winding down at Eastern Home Products Inc. in Southwest Baltimore after the company announced that it didn't have enough money to continue in business.

Eastern Home and its subsidiaries -- Eastern Manufacturing Products Inc., Home and Roam Leisure Products Inc. and Eastern Standard Corp. -- manufacture above-ground swimming pools and window blinds. Its retail stores sell pools, spas and pool tables.

About 20 of the company's work force of nearly 200 are working.

More than 125 workers were surprised when they were laid off abruptly in late January.

"People were shocked," said one former employee who asked not to be identified. "They were very ticked off."

Since then, workers have been laid off in small batches, said the employee, and those who remain don't know how much longer they will be employed.

When Eastern's main creditor, AT&T Corp., said it would no longer provide funding to the company, Eastern officials had no alternative but to file for receivership, said Howard A. Rubenstein, an attorney at Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf, Hendler & Sameth LLC in Baltimore. Rubenstein was appointed receiver by the Baltimore Circuit Court on Feb. 19.

He said he is in negotiations with potential buyers for the company's manufacturing facility at 1601 Wicomico St. and the five retail locations. The company has stores in Southwest Baltimore, Bel Air, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The retail operations will remain open for the time being, he said.

Rubenstein said the future of the plant and stores is uncertain. A new owner could reopen them and run the same type of business, or it could buy Eastern's assets. He said he will choose whatever option will bring in the most money for creditors.

"More money can be achieved by selling these as entire entities than by trying to have a public auction," he said.

AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson declined to comment.

"We prefer to not further an awkward situation by announcing to the world how much money we're owed," he said. "We work with companies and the proper authorities to obtain as much money on the dollar as we can."

The company's owner, Joseph J. Laputka, did not return phone calls.

Some employees had an inkling that the company was in trouble because suppliers who were owed money refused to deliver products. But company officials never let on that the situation was dire, said the employee who asked not to be identified.

Workers are "very apprehensive" about finding new jobs, the person said. "Most took public transportation and can't just jump in a car and work in [the suburbs]."

Patrick M. Baker, manager of the state dislocated worker program in the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said his agency didn't know about the layoffs until most of the workers had been terminated.

His agency is working with the company to get a list of former employees to contact them and assist in developing their resumes and interviewing skills, and possibly help with retraining.

Richard Escalante, senior development officer at Baltimore Development Corp., said the economic development agency was unaware that Eastern had planned to close. But, he said, if the assets are liquidated, BDC will help find a tenant for the leased building.

He said the site is in an empowerment zone, which means a new employer would receive tax credits for hiring workers who live in the area.

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