Sweater Maker Tells Workers It's Closing In City

Posted: March 09, 1989

Robert Bruce Inc., one of the last large knitting mills remaining in Philadelphia, told employees this week that it was closing its doors, perhaps forever.

The company, which had manufactured men's sweaters for 79 years, employed more than 600 employees during the peak production season at its main plant at C and Westmoreland Streets.

Officials at Robert Bruce's Philadelphia plant and at Savoy Industries Corp., its parent company in New York, did not return telephone calls.

But several past and current employees said yesterday that they had been notified that the plant was closing.

Tamara Ambros, who had been employed at Robert Bruce for 17 years, said she and others were told Tuesday that their jobs had been terminated, effective immediately.

"I was just told to leave and that they were going to liquidate the company," she said. "They told us that the company just wasn't making it and it was going to close."

Ambros said that Robert Bruce was one of the last large garment manufacturers left in the city.

"If anything, the garment industry in Philadelphia has been just fading away," she said.

Since early 1986, more than 18 knitting shops and garment manufacturers have closed in Philadelphia, throwing at least 1,500 people out of work, according to the Interntional Ladies Garment Workers Union. Like the others, Robert Bruce appears to have fallen victim to competition from foreign manufacturers and from uneven retail demand for its products.

Joseph Fisher, regional director of the ILGWU, said yesterday that Robert Bruce also had experienced severe cash-flow problems.

"My understanding is that they have orders and are ready to start production, but cannot do so until they resolve their cash-flow problems," he said.

Fisher said that Robert Bruce officials are scheduled to meet Monday with representatives of the state Commerce Department to "see whether or not they can help."

"Nobody seems very optimistic at this point, but it does offer a ray of hope," the union official said.

According to Fisher, Robert Bruce employed about 600 unionized employees during its peak production season, putting it in a dead heat with Somerset Knitting Mills for the rank of the largest garment shop in Philadelphia.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Robert Bruce said, "Management believes (the Philadelphia plant) is one of the largest sweater-manufacturing complexes in the United States."

Robert Bruce's financial woes have been public knowledge since at least March of last year, when Savoy Industries disclosed that the manufacturer was having difficulty making payments on $17.25 million it had borrowed.

The company has since said it might be forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy if its finances could not be reorganized.

The predecessor to Robert Bruce was founded in 1910 and the company has conducted business in substantially its present form since 1948.

In 1980, Robert Bruce was acquired by Savoy Industries Corp., a New York holding company that once owned Tyco Toys Corp. of Mount Laurel, in a

leveraged buyout from Consolidated Foods Corp.

Savoy took Robert Bruce public in 1984, selling stock in the over-the- counter market.

Currently, Philadelphia's Robert Bruce Inc. is the major operating entity of Robert Bruce Industries, a publicly traded company that is based in New York at the same offices at Savoy Industries.

As of the most recent available reports, Savoy owned more than 90 percent of Robert Bruce's stock. For the nine months that ended Sept. 30, Robert Bruce Industries reported sales of $30.6 million.

During the same period, the company reported a net loss of $3 million.

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