KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) - With almost no warning, a Kentwood wholesale lawn and garden distributor closed its business on December 28, 2012; putting about 60 local employees out of work according to a former employee.
"I wish I knew [what happened]," former employee John Szymczak. Szymczak worked for Commerce for 16 years and for Flowerland for 14 before that. "I have 30 years in the industry and now you feel like you're starting all over."
Szymczak told 24 Hour News 8 he and the other employees were not given many details about why and when the business would shutter its doors. He said employees at the Kentwood plant, at 4660 East Paris Avenue, found out their last day was last Friday when they showed up to work.
"It looked like it was going to be our last day, but we really didn't find out until the last minute for sure."
In a letter released to the public on Jan. 3, 2013, CEO Richard Lessans told his workers "unforeseen business circumstances resulting from actions taken by Commerce's largest and most important suppliers" forced the company to immediately begin liquidating its assets.
"The closing of the company will result in the immediate termination of many employees, and ultimately the termination of all employees," the letter continued. The letter stated 267 people were employed by Commerce Corporation.
24 Hour News 8 found out from a local West Michigan company that the Scotts-Miracle Grow company was one of two big companies who announced they would no longer extending a line of credit to Commerce.
That was the first inkling Sue Jeurink, the C.O.O. of the Fruit Basket Flowerland store on 28th street, had that the company was in real trouble.
"It's part of an extended family for us," Jeurink said of the company. She went on to say that Commerce was a staple in the West Michigan community, and so were its employees. She said it was a shock to learn the the company was shutting its doors -- and they didn't get much of an explanation.
"[It's the] end of an era so to speak," said Jeurink. "It's going to leave a large hole in the Grand Rapids community gardening community."
Most of the time when a company is considering closing, they must notify their employees at least 60 days ahead of the planned date. But the company said these circumstances prevented them from notification, in accordance with a provision of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1998.
The US headquarters for the company is in Baltimore. Its website lists Kentwood and Los Angeles as affiliates.
Although it's been one week after losing his job at Commerce Corporation, horticulturalist Szymczak is still trying to figure out what happened.
The company, he said, gave their employees no details about what happened or why. It left Szymczak with many unanswered questions and a new purpose.
"I can't pretend that my emotions are stirred up, but I'm going to make a choice that it's not going to steal my joy and I'm just gonna find another job," Szymczak said. "I guess the best way to feel for me is, 'give me an interview and hire me.'"
The Maryland Gazette reported on Dec. 29 as a "...Pasadena-based distributor of garden supplies prepares to announce layoffs, the company is suing its former president for $255,000, according to court records.
"Commerce Corp., one of the largest distributors of lawn and garden supplies in the country, filed the lawsuit against Malcomb C. Cork in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court."
An industry trade publication, Lawn & Garden Retailer , and the Baltimore Sun reported "Commerce Corporation, a Maryland-based lawn and garden distributor recently announced the laying off of some employees while the privately-held company continues its search to find a buyer or develop a new format, reports Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun."
A woman from Mount Pleasant died after her SUV crashed on a road in Montcalm County.
Mirror parts found at the scene indicate it may be a 2005 Chevrolet Uplander.
An observation survey was conducted by the Wayne State University Transportation Research Group.