Founded on the outskirts of where our nation’s Industrial Revolution was launched, Marcal Paper was in every way a New Jersey landmark. Its founder, Nicholas Marcalus, was an Italian immigrant whose company started small and grew to become a pillar in its community. When periods of difficulty emerged, they were met by steadfast determination, public-private partnership, capital investment and a belief that Marcal’s proud history was the foundation upon which an even stronger future could be built.
The Marcal story is one of entrepreneurship, consumer product innovation, environmental progress and community stewardship.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate that legacy and begin anew, as we officially announce the restart of regular papermaking operations in Elmwood Park one year to the day after a ten-alarm fire destroyed the iconic Marcal Paper mill. We will begin by turning on one paper machine, welcoming back dozens of good people into full-time jobs, and working to restore customer confidence. We will, in short, begin the long journey of creating a company from the ground up once again.
The prospect of such an announcement — of restarting a viable paper manufacturing business at the site of such destruction – seemed impossible to any of us who were there. Within about eight hours, a ten-alarm fire had brought down the iconic Marcal sign from our roof. 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space was eliminated. Twenty-one paper converting lines, used to make the products we all came to know and love, were gone. Nearly 400 jobs, which for several years were preserved in Elmwood Park through significant investment, were lost.
Looking back, the path we’ve taken to arrive at this special day has been marked by three feelings.
The first is gratitude.
As the fire began to rage, 200 workers were still in our mill. The fact that each and every one of them escaped, while performing their duties brilliantly, stands as a testament to the countless hours spent, processes implemented and drills executed, all in the background while nobody was watching. That commitment to the safety of one another in the mill — when coupled with the extraordinary bravery shown by hundreds of first responders in the face of unimaginable risk — resulted in not a single life lost, and not a single person injured. While we surely lost a lot, what we lost can be replaced. We are grateful to our team and our community for what they saved that night.
The second is service.
What has always made Marcal different is its people. Generations within families followed each other to work at the mill, and they cared deeply about our company. In the days and weeks after the fire, we tried our best to live up to that legacy of service. In addition to providing direct financial assistance and extended health care access, we worked with our state, federal and local officials, as well as businesses and nonprofit partners, to connect our displaced associates to human services and new job opportunities. Those efforts surely did not alleviate every hardship but, hopefully, helped to soften the blow as our team members transitioned to what came next.
The third is hope.
As we gathered as a family at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson just hours after the blaze struck, there was unwavering unity and strength. Those who had spent decades building, saving, and then building again, the iconic Marcal brand, responded to the fire in truly extraordinary fashion. While we all recognize what Marcal has meant to so many, we did not want to just start up the surviving equipment and fail. From day one, we worked to give ourselves a fighting chance, to ensure we had a viable, sustainable roadmap to thrive in a very challenging tissue market.
Years ago, our founder used to say, “When you buy Marcal, you’re buying paper products of good quality at low prices compared to other brands. Buy Marcal. Marcaluate and save.” That commercial, and the Marcal sign atop the paper mill, were sources of great comfort for those who lived or worked in Northern New Jersey. As the sign came into view along Route 80, or you heard his voice on your television, you knew you were home.
For all of us who have worked at the mill in recent years, the Marcal sign was also a source of great pride. It was a symbol — our symbol — of a once-great family-owned business — New Jersey’s one and only recycled tissue manufacturing mill — on the long road back to being great again.
This week, a new chapter in the Marcal story begins.
Thank you, New Jersey.
Marcal Paper is back.
-Rob Baron is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Marcal Paper