Stetson hat plant in St. Joseph to hang up business

Thursday, April 15, 2004

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Stetson hat factory in St. Joseph will close by the end of June, eliminating 110 jobs, the company announced Wednesday.

Parent company Hatco Inc., based in Garland, Texas, blamed the closure on poor sales.

"I don't know if it has to do with the economy or the lack of interest in western wear in general," said Scott Bengel, the plant manager in St. Joseph. "I feel horrible about it. This is the best bunch of people I've ever had the pleasure of working with."

Hatco officials had previously met with Mayor David Jones and Patt Lilly, president and chief executive officer of the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce, about the plant's future.

"People are not buying hats, cowboy or otherwise, like they used to," Lilly said.

"It was becoming obvious that there was reason to be concerned."

Sue Schuler, 60, has worked at the Stetson factory for eight years. She said the jobs appealed to people who couldn't find higher-paying factory work.

"It's really hard to be cheerful," she said. "Being St. Joe, there's really no place else to go for a job."

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