Longtime city tannery shuts down

JOHNSTOWN – A leather-tanning business in operation since the 1960s has shut down for economic reasons.

Carville National Leather Corp. on Knox Avenue closed Aug. 30, company President Bob Carville said Thursday.

He said the company – founded by his father, Hugh Carville, in 1967 – had about a dozen employees left at the time it closed.

At its height in the early 1980s, the company had about 150 employees. The company started in New Jersey but moved to Johnstown in 1976.

Carville said economic problems accelerated in 2009 when the three-story building was damaged by a fire.

“Obviously, the fire in 2009 was a major factor,” Carville said. “There was a major interruption in production. We were shut down for eight months.”

He said the company lost much business then, during a time when the national economy already was stung by a major recession.

Foreign competition from locations such as Asia didn’t help. Carville National Leather, which has had many military contracts, also was hurt by the federal sequester about a year ago, Carville said.

According to its website, Carville National Leather’s product line ranged from technical leathers to economical commodity leathers. The company also reconditioned – doing finish removal and recoloring – virtually any type of leather. Leathers produced by Carville National were typically used in the footwear, automobile and aircraft interior, garment, handbag, upholstery and small leather-goods industries.

The Carville building caught fire three times since 2009.

Fire damaged equipment of the third floor of the Carville building in August 2009 and November 2012. In February 2010, a fire damaged the basement of the Carville facility.

Carville said the 2009 fire was caused by an electrical short in the compressor room. The 2010 fire caused minor smoke damage, and the 2012 fire was caused by a defective machine part, he said.

The building on the city’s west side has a prominent place in Johnstown history. It is the former Knox Gelatine Factory, a major employer and economic engine for the community through much of the 20th century.

Carville said the company started outsourcing work after the 2009 fire.

“It was not the same,” he said. “We lost a lot of business over that period. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working.”

With the downturn in the economy, Carville said his company’s military and domestic production lagged. He said his company is one of the areas’s last contract tanners and finishers.

“It’s tough,” Carville said. “We’ve seen a decline in the industry. There just isn’t the business there used to be.”

He said 65 percent of his company’s work was with the military, and the sequester badly hurt Carville’s production.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “We had been a major military supplier for over 10 years. There was too many obstacles to overcome.”

He said his company owns the building and is looking for a buyer.

The Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Sewer Board took formal action Wednesday night to relinquish Carville National Leather’s sewer discharge permit.

Mark Levendusky, laboratory director of the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility, told his board he was contacted by Carville in August and told he decided to close the business.

“He’s got some irons in the fire,” Levendusky said. “He’s got some longshots out there that will hopefully work in his favor. It’s a good, sound building.”

Sewer plant consultant George Bevington said Carville National Leather in recent years has been a “top 10 customer” of the sewer plant.

Levendusky said if Carville has a new prospect for the building and needs to have wastewater treated once again, the plant and sewer board likely will work with him.

“He’s been a good employer, good, good people,” said board member Richard Handy.

Board Chairman Lee Mitchell added, “I hate to see him go.”

Company founder Hugh Carville couldn’t be reached this week for comment.

Michael Anich can be reached at [email protected].

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