New York City, which has a population in the neighborhood of 8 million people, has one – count ‘em, O-N-E – milk bottling plant. And it’s running at a loss. And its 82-year-old owner is shutting it down because his family can’t continue to operate it “without ongoing losses.”
Close to 300 workers will, over the next few months – production is being scaled down, not dramatically halted – lose their jobs.
And New York will lose a legacy business – one being barely kept afloat in recent years through contracts with the New York City School system for mini-cartons for kids.
Like so many other businesses, milk processing and packaging has become the province of Big Business, due to the supposed ‘economy of scale’.
Elmhurst Dairy, in Jamaica, Queens, will close on October 30th after more than 80 years in business. Henry Schwartz, the company’s 82-year-old owner, stated this week that the family-run business—its red barn logo and brightly colored cartons are a common sight in many NYC delis—had remained open “long past the years that it was economically viable.”
“The family did so at a very high cost but is unable to continue to do so without ongoing losses,” he added.
The company started small, on Schwartz’s father’s farm on Caldwell Avenue in Elmhurst. Schwartz told the NY Times this week that his family moved to Jamaica during the Great Depression, and the operation grew, served by an uncle’s 200-cow dairy farm in nearby Middle Village.
The current location opened in 1940. At its peak, the plant produced more than 5.6 million quarts of milk a week, according to the company. But sales took a dip in the late 1980s when New York State deregulated milk sales, prompting competing companies to drive down their prices. Schwartz poured $14 million into the plant when the company got a distribution deal with NYC Starbucks locations in 2003, but that deal ended in 2011.
Still, Elmhurst maintained large-scale distribution in recent years, especially in mini-cartons for NYC public schools. (“[We] give our school kids a nutritious lunch time drink option,” the company writes on its website.) Strategic Resource Group, a consumer-industry consultant, told the NY Times that Elmhurst’s closure could drive up milk prices across the city, maybe as much as a nickle per quart.