The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. will close its Baltimore bakery -- its last bread, pie and cake operation in the United States -- in December, marking the end of an era for what was once one of the nation's biggest bakers.
The planned Dec. 18 closure of the A&P; bakery on North Franklintown Road will eliminate about 210 jobs in a city that's been hammered by factory closures and layoffs in recent months.
A&P; said it was selling the bakery to locally based H&S; Bakery Inc. and would be ordering goods from H&S; to produce A&P; stores' private label baked goods.
Freeman Tanner, 54, who has been helping to make Jane Parker brand fruitcakes for the holidays this year, was sad and a little angry at the decision that will cost him a job he's had for 21 years.
"This was a good place to work," he said, adding that the workers gave the company concessions in the 1980s to keep the West Baltimore bakery open.
"They didn't invest in the plant. That's what the problem was," he said.
Katrina Andrews, who has worked at the bakery for eight years, said she doesn't know how she will support her family.
"I've got a high school education and two years of college. No one else is going to pay more than $12.59 an hour. I've got two sons . . . and the only jobs out there are low wage," which won't allow her to support herself and her family, she said.
Patricia Williams, 27, who places pans on the conveyor belt that takes them to filling and baking areas, said she'll miss "the people working together, the laughter and the smell" of sweet yeast in the morning.
The East Baltimore resident said she'd been expecting bad news for a couple of months, and had been adding to her savings because she believes no job is permanent.
"Look at the people at the Esskay plant," she said. Smithfield Foods Inc. announced early this month that it would close the East Baltimore Esskay ham processing plant by the end of the year.
"My mother told me the only thing promised to you is the color of your skin and that you're going to die someday," Ms. Williams said.
The plant, which makes Jane Parker brand baked goods for A&P; stores along the East Coast, has been in decline for years. In Maryland, A&P; stores are called Super Fresh Stores.
This year, the bakery was using only 400,000 pounds of flour a week, down from 700,000 pounds three years ago, and 1.2 million a decade ago, workers said.
Although H&S; Bakery Inc. is buying the bakery, H&S; attorney Konstantine J. Prevas said the machinery inside the plant was "antique" and of no use to his company.
And he said that since H&S; is highly automated and has extra capacity, it probably won't need to hire back many of the workers to fill the new orders.
He said H&S; might keep part of the old A&P; building as a bakery and use the rest as a warehouse.
The attorney declined to reveal the price H&S; paid for the factory, saying only it was "more than $2 million."
The Baltimore A&P; bakery, which has been operating since 1923, had become "outmoded and inefficient" said Michael Rourke, a spokesman at A&P;'s headquarters in Montvale, N.J.
And company managers didn't believe that investing in new equipment to keep the plant operating would be worthwhile, he said.
Mr. Rourke declined to say how much money A&P; would save from the sale, or how big the new orders would be for H&S.;
A&P;, the nation's biggest supermarket chain as late as the 1970s, was once highly vertically integrated: It made its own canned and baked goods under brand names such as Ann Page and Jane Parker, and delivered them in A&P; trucks to A&P; stores.
But as television advertisements made popular "national" brands, such as vegetables sold by Jolly Green Giant, consumers started looking down at store brands as second rate, explained Joseph C. Ronning, a supermarket analyst for the Wall Street firm of Brown Bros. Harriman.
By the early 1980s, the company was threatened with bankruptcy as customers stayed away from A&P; stores, many of which were becoming old and looking run down, he said.
A&P; has only one bakery left, in Toronto.