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Berea Laundry to Close

After losing its largest commercial customer, the Berea College Laundry has been forced to make the difficult decision of closing its operations. The announcement was made March 24, 2004 by Vice President for Business and Administration Diane Kerby. "When we were notified this month by our largest customer, Rockcastle County Hospital, that they were moving their business in-house and would be ending their account by April 1, we immediately met with the employees of the laundry to see if anything could be done to reduce expenses, increase business, or even raise the rates. Together, we explored the possibility of finding other large regional commercial accounts, but simply can't compete with the many large, national firms that have the benefit of volume discount pricing," Kerby states. "Also, in-house services are now more affordable and have become more prevalent due to changes in technology. As a result, many businesses such as hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that use a high volume of linens are now no longer using external vendors such as the College Laundry."

According to Kerby, employees had known for quite some time that the laundry's long-term future was uncertain due to the anticipated expenses associated with relocating the facilities when the College replaces its heat plant. The recent loss of the laundry's only remaining major commercial account was a severe financial blow to the laundry, which was already suffering annual losses. "For the past three years, the laundry has been operating in the red and is projected to do so again this year," Kerby states. "Those annual operating deficits, coupled with losing this major account now puts us in the most unfortunate position of having to close a business that we have operated in this community for more than one hundred years. We simply are faced with significantly greater operating expenses than we have revenue to cover them."

"We have loved every minute of our work here," says Darlene Vanwinkle, the team leader in the laundry. "The staff has taken a tremendous amount of pride in the work we've done and we know that we have served the community to the best of our abilities. And, although we are sad to see the College Laundry close, we are not surprised. We certainly realize that it's no longer possible for a small laundry like ours to compete with the larger commercial companies."

The laundry, which currently employs ten workers, is notifying its customers about the pending closing, which is expected to be May 31. Some of the laundry's eligible employees are considering the option to retire when the business closes. Others will be considered for currently vacant positions in other departments at the College.

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