Merchants staying positive despite mill shutdown

With news the mill here will be shut down for up to two weeks next month, local merchants are hoping the impact on the holiday shopping season won’t be too great.
“When I first heard about it, call me the optimist, but I thought, ‘This will help people stay in town to do their shopping,’” said Connie Cuthbertson, owner of Northwood’s Gallery & Gifts and Gourmet Outfitters on Scott Street.
She felt the shutdown will make people think twice about leaving town, taking the whole family with them and spending a lot of money on gas, food, and possibly lodging.
“We’ve got everything they could want right here,” remarked Cuthbertson, referring to local retailers. “I think it will be just fine.”
Cuthbertson noted Northwood’s first opened its doors just prior to the mill strike in 1998 and felt if her store was able to weather that seven months, it could handle a two-week shutdown in December.
“It will probably have some affect on big-ticket items,” said Mark Howarth of Howarth’s Home Centre and The Source by Circuit City. “But lots of times I find that when people are off work, they’re out shopping more. And that helps the sales.
“We also have lots of interest-free plans nowadays, when you don’t have to pay for a year on a lot of these things. And some people take advantage of that,” he added.
“It’s hard to say. Time will tell,” Howarth remarked.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t [hurt business too much],” said David Green of Green’s Countrywide here. “You have to remain positive. But on the other hand, that is a lot of people.”
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt us too much,” said Angus McDonald, owner of the local Canadian Tire store. “I think because of the timing [of the shutdown], a lot of people will take the time off and try to enjoy the holidays.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and they seem to agree that this isn’t the worst time of the year this could happen,” he added.
“I think a lot of people have already done their Christmas shopping. Usually half anyway,” noted Gary Rogozinski, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, though acknowledging there’s always your Dec. 23 and 24 shoppers.”
“The mill’s only going to be down totally for one week, and half for two weeks. So the impact overall will be minimal,” he added.
“People might hold back and not spend as much as they normally do, but the stuff they’d cut back on are the non-essentials,” Rogozinski continued. “I don’t think their Christmas shopping for presents will slow down.
“I don’t think the impact will be that significant. It might be felt a little bit, but not too bad.”
“To us, it’s business as usual. The customers come in and we take care of them. That’s our focus,” said BIA chair Russ Ling, who also manages Taggs Source for Sports here.
“I feel very bad people are going to be losing hours on paycheques, but we have to look at all the positive things,” he added. “Kids are getting ready and hyped up for Christmas.”
As reported in last Thursday’s Daily Bulletin, Abitibi-Consolidated announced that the mill here will have a cold shutdown for two weeks next month due to a shortfall of orders as well as a surplus of kraft inventory.
Mill general manager John Harrison said it was confirmed Wednesday that the No. 6 paper machine will be shut down from Dec. 18-Jan. 2 while Nos. 5 and 7 will do so from Dec. 24-Jan. 2.
The kraft mill will be shut down from Dec. 18-Jan. 2.
Harrison noted Fort Frances is the only Abitibi-Consolidated mill to be taking extended downtown over the Christmas holidays.
“As a company, we’re short on orders for the grades that we make here,” he said. “And we’re the high-cost producer right now. The downtime goes to the high-cost producer.”
Harrison added the reason for the kraft mill downtime is that the mill here has 10,000 metric tons of flash dried kraft in its inventory.
“In addition to supplying kraft to Fort Frances and kraft to the Boise mill [in International Falls], we have a flash drier that lets us take kraft and make it into bale form that we can ship,” he explained.
“We supply our sister mill in Quebec, and we supply some pulp down to mills in the Minnesota and Wisconsin area.
“We’ve built up about a 10,000-ton inventory of that pulp,” continued Harrison. “That’s quite a bit and we’d like to try and run that inventory down, which is why we’re going to have the kraft mill down while we’re still running two of the machines—so we can run some of that inventory off.”
Harrison noted the scheduled shutdown is a “cold” one, meaning none of the 740 personnel (wood staff, mill staff, office staff, operators, or tradesmen) in any department of the mill will be doing anything there for at least one week, if not two.