At its peak, the Dave Longaberger-founded company had sales of $1 billion, supporting nearly 8,000 employees. But Longaberger's death nearly 20 years ago started a decline that could never be reversed.
A little under two years ago Longaberger left its famous basket-shaped headquarters building in Newark, east of Columbus, and late last year had moved 25 miles further east in Dresden.
The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading on the shares of Longaberger parent JRJR Networks, based in Dallas, less than a month ago.
"I am very sorry to have to tell you that Longaberger, at this time, has ceased operations," said a note sent Friday to Longaberger sales consultants. The note advised sales consultants to "please take action as soon as possible" in contacting credit-card companies and also advised against attempting to place any further orders.
"I'm heartbroken to have to pass this information along, but I wanted to help you to get the information you need now from the website so that you can be prepared as you contact your customers," the note said.
Messages left for a spokesman at Longaberger's parent company, JRJR Networks, were not returned. Calls to Longaberger's home office, its Patio Shops and customer service went directly to voicemail. A message on the Patio Shops line indicated, at mid-afternoon, that it was closed.
The company's closing will result in a loss of tax revenue for the village of Dresden and comes as a surprise because of the effort the company put into relocating its offices to Dresden, said Larry King, a village councilman.
"It's the only manufacturing operation in town, so we certainly hate to hear this," he said of the operation making the company's baskets, which have always been made in Ohio and sold at a premium.
Dresden Mayor David Mathew said the closing was "horrible news for us."
"We were pretty excited to have them back in the village. People were eating in restaurants, buying gas, paying taxes. We hate to see this."
Retailers in Dresden were "in panic mode right now," one shop owner said Friday afternoon. The shop owner, who did not want to be identified, said that rumors about a closing had begun circulating but no one had heard anything official.
"I've seen highlights and the downfall," the shop owner said. "You just don't know what to expect."
The closing news comes less than a month after the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading of shares in Longaberger parent JRJR Networks and began the process of dropping the Dallas-based company.
Soon after the delisting move was announced, two companies that JRJR Networks owns in the United Kingdom — Kleeneze and Betterware — collapsed and plunged into administration, the British term for bankruptcy.
Two other JRJR Networks companies have collapsed in the past few months: Your Inspiration at Home, a maker of spices and other gourmet food items, is in bankruptcy in New Zealand and Australia; and My Secret Kitchen, a United Kingdom-based maker of gourmet foods, is in liquidation.
Longaberger was also hurt early last decade by a combination of hard economic times and changing consumer tastes, dropping annual sales to $100 million in 2014 and forcing several rounds of layoffs.
In 2013, JRJR Networks, then known as CVSL, bought a 51.7 percent stake in Longaberger, making the basketmaker the first acquisition by JRJR, which founder John Rochon Sr. had promoted as a holding company of direct-sales businesses.
But financial troubles persisted for both the Longaberger Co. and JRJR Networks, and Rochon in June 2014 asked Tami Longaberger, then CEO of the company her father founded, for a $1 million loan. By April 2015, a frustrated Tami Longaberger sent Rochon a resignation letter.
After falling behind by more than $800,000 to various local taxing entities for fees related to the company's iconic "Big Basket" headquarters in Newark, the basketmaker vacated the building in July 2016 and was served with foreclosure documents. In December 2017, the basket building was sold to a Canton-based developer.
The company also vacated its Frazeysburg campus and retreated to its roots in Dresden late last year.
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