Justin Boots employees move on

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Tidwell: ‘This is all such a shock’

Justin Boots employee Ashley Tidwell was emotional Thursday morning as she said goodbye to the place she has worked for 15 years.

Following the 39-year-old factory’s closing on July 6 and seemingly the end of Tidwell’s career as a ACS Stitcher, sewing on the top pattern of the world-renowned boots, emotions ran high.

“I sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes and cried,” she said. “I worked there for the past 8 years and another 6 years before that, [doing a short stint at Lay-Z-Boy in between]. This is all such a shock.

“I will miss everybody. What makes it emotional is because we are a family. We’ve done several benefits for our employees, and it truly is a big Justin Boots family.”

Three days earlier, Tidwell was expecting a different outcome. After being furloughed in March and receiving letters in April and May from the Fort Worth, Texas, corporate office saying things were on track for reopening, Tidwell said many employees thought a conference call scheduled would be to tell employees when and how they could return to work.

“My supervisor reached out and said there would be a conference call, and that we could listen but not ask questions,” Tidwell said. “I was at Roaring River anxiously waiting, and they informed us that over the years, there had been a decline in exotic boot sales, and because of the pandemic, those sales declined even more rapidly. So, because of that, they were shutting down the plant effective July 6.

“They offered us severance packages, if that’s what you want to call it. And, they offered us relocation options in El Paso, Texas, or a place in Pennsylvania. For me, that’s not an option because I have two kids.”

Tidwell said the severance amounted to a few months of pay and, and out of that, employees were asked to pay back three months of health insurance while they were furloughed.

Tidwell said on the conference call were numerous HR personnel and higher-ups in the company, and when the conference call ended, she could hear the reaction from her coworkers.

“Once it was done, you could hear people unmuting their phones to ask questions, but they hung up the call very quickly,” Tidwell said. “I have friends that have been there for years longer than I have, and it was a shocker.”

Now, former Justin employees are tasked with finding new jobs, which Tidwell said won’t be easy. She is still drawing unemployment, but the job hunt is on, and she fears it will be against many of her former coworkers with similar skillsets.

“Starting over is a whole big, new process,” she said. “A lot of us are asking, ‘How do I do this now?’ Finding a job now is even different than it was eight years ago, and it’s hard when you’re almost 40 to find another job. I had to ask my [18-year-old] daughter how I am supposed to do the online [application] stuff.”

Job opportunities

Racheal Freeman, Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce director, said the Chamber has been posting job opportunities on its Facebook page, and employers in Barry County and surrounding counties have been reaching out.

“We try to pass on when our Chamber members have job opportunities, and some other businesses in Monett have asked me to share info about them if someone calls the Chamber and asks who is hiring,” Freeman said. “Numerous places within three counties — Stone, Lawrence and Barry — have been reaching out.”

Crowder College - Cassville Campus is also hoping to pick up some of the former Justin employees.

“We were saddened to hear of the closing of Justin Boots in Cassville and Carthage,” a post on the campus’ Facebook page said. “Our hearts go out to all the employees and their families who have lost their jobs. We want you to know that we are here for you. We have staff who can help you apply for financial aid for free, help you think about career opportunities or just be here to talk and see if this is something you want to do. No pressure, just support. We are your community college.

“Going back to school may not have been in your plans just a few days ago, but if it is now, we can help. We offer training, funding opportunities and lots and lots of support. We know this is a very hard time and want to help. We have incredible staff, some who have been exactly where you are now. We are so sorry you and your family are facing this challenge, please let us be there for you.”

For more information, people may call 417-847-1706.

Another possible option for people is through the Missouri Job Center, which has a branch in Monett. For a limited time, Missouri residents may be eligible to receive a training voucher for programs in health care, automotive, manufacturing, IT, truck driving, welding and more. The training does not affect unemployment benefits.

For more information about the vouchers and training programs, people may visit www.sectorready.org, call Joplin Missouri Job Center at 417-629-3000, or call the Monett Job Center at 417-635-1207.

Future of the property

Justin Brands owns the buildings and property at 1100 Presley Dr. and across County Farm Road, as well as a storage building on the north end of the property. The 45,000-square-foot building was purchased in 1981 from the U.S. Shoe Co., which manufactured Jumping-Jacks shoes.

Top employment by the U.S. Shoe Co. was 290, and at its closing after 15 years, 223 were employed.

A few years after its purchase, Justin Brands also added a nearly 20,000-square-foot warehouse and acquired the former Mozark Poultry Company and Garrett Manufacturing properties.

Isaac Petersen, director of economic development for the city of Cassville, said the hope is to find another industry to make use of the property.

“We are really interested in getting another business there,” he said. “In fact, I have a meeting with the CEO of a textile company next week.

“We will definitely market [the property], and we’ve had a few inquiries already. It’s pretty exciting to be getting inquiries before we knew Justin’s timeline or even if they planned to divest.”

Steve Walensky, Cassville city administrator, said Justin Brands has retained some workers to spend 90 days cleaning out the buildings, and at that point, they are looking to sell.

“They are interested in putting the property up for sale, and I’ve been in touch with one of their executives on the operations side to hopefully help them sell it,” Walensky said. “If we can find someone that can work and put them together, that would be great. The good news is Justin is happy and willing to work with us.”

Multiple messages left for Terri Janak, Justin Brands executive vice president of operations, were not returned as of press time.

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