More than 100 Berks jobs lost as C.H. Briggs to close after 55 years

C.H. Briggs Co., a Reading-based independently owned wholesale distributor of interior specialty building materials for more than 55 years, announced this month that it will close.

The decision impacts 130 employees – all nonunion – across C.H. Briggs’ five locations, including 104 at its corporate headquarters and Reading fulfillment center, both of which are at 2047 Kutztown Road. The other sites are in Lansdale; Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Norcross, Georgia.

According to the company’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing with the state Department of Labor & Industry, 82 employees will be laid off effective Feb. 1; one employee effective March 1; and 21 employees effective April 1.

A release from C.H. Briggs said the decision to close was made after repeated efforts to restructure its relationship with its primary supplier were unsuccessful.

All employees will receive a severance and benefits package, and a small team will remain through March 31 to finalize the operational details of the closure.

Julia Klein, chairwoman of C.H. Briggs Co., said in a statement:

“To say we are sad and disappointed would be an understatement. Changes in the supply chains we depended on mean we can no longer provide the quality of products and customer service that was the hallmark of our business. We made every attempt to avoid this outcome. Our efforts were exhaustive, but we were left with no other option but to wind down our operations.

“We recognize how painful this decision is for our co-workers, which is why we worked so hard to avoid it. We have a talented team, and we are doing all we can to help them be successful in the next phase of their careers. We have built a strong culture over three generations, and we are deeply grateful to our co-workers, customers and suppliers for more than a half-century of empowering, elevating and enriching the lives of the communities we serve.

“C.H. Briggs is more than just a distributor of specialty building materials. Our work has always been about people and community – creating exceptional spaces where we can all live, work, learn, play and heal. Our hope is that those spaces, and the people who design and build them, will be our legacy.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Stitch Fix to close its Berks County operations

Online clothing company Stitch Fix is shuttering its Mohnton Mills operations by the end of this year, leaving 56 employees without jobs.

In a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing sent to the state Department of Labor & Industry, Stitch Fix said its sewing factory at 22 Main St., Mohnton, and knitting mill at 130 N. Sterley St., Reading, would close.

Although the last day of onsite operations is anticipated to be Oct. 28, the WARN notice said, 55 affected employees will continue their fully paid employment through Dec. 2. After that, three supervisory workers of the 55 will remain employed on an unpaid leave of absence through a separation date of Dec. 15. One supervisory employee will be employed and fully paid through Dec. 30.

“As we focus on the strategies that support our return to profitable growth, notably increasing our number of active clients and optimizing our cost base, we have made the incredibly difficult decision to close our operations at Mohnton Mills,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

“While this is the right decision for our business, it is a hard day for our team. We are committed to supporting them with severance payments that increase with tenure, extended health care, recruitment resources and other benefits.”

The company is also offering two months’ paid notice, and a bonus for those staying to support the wind down.

San Francisco-based Stitch Fix, which is continuing to navigate an uncertain macro-economic climate and undertake a major business transformation, bought the sewing factory and knitting mill in 2017. It had formerly been Mohnton Knitting Mills, founded by Aaron Hornberger in 1906.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Lehigh Valley sets median home price record  

The Lehigh Valley set a median sales price record in March as buyers continued to compete over limited inventory. 

Last month’s figure of $280,000 in Northampton and Lehigh counties breaks the previous high of $278,000, recorded in December 2021. 

The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors trade association reported that last month’s median price is 16.7% more than the year before. 

In rural Carbon County, which the association also covers, the median sales price climbed 21.6%, from $160,400 to $195,000. 

March settlements rose slightly in Northampton and Lehigh counties, to 572. 

Justin Porembo, CEO of Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, noted in a release that mortgage interest rates recently hit 4.6%, according to Freddie Mac. 

However, despite that and the negative impact from inflation, he said, “we continue to expect housing demand to remain strong due to favorable demographics and shifts in buyers’ preferences as teleworking remains in place.” 

Last month, the average home in Northampton and Lehigh counties sold in 17 days, six fewer than a year ago. And the percentage of list price received was 102.8%, as many houses continued to fetch more than their asking price. 

A major consequence of the fast-rising interest rates, inflationary pressures and escalating home prices is a major drop in the affordability index, which fell from 145 in March 2021 to 108 in March 2022. 

The index of 108 means the median household income is 108% of what’s necessary to qualify for a median-priced home under current interest rates. So a higher number equates to greater affordability. 

Howard Schaeffer, president of Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, said he remembers not too long ago when the median sales price was $160,000. 

The inventory shortage that’s driving up prices is still very challenging for buyers. 

“I have a lot of cash buyers still sitting on the fence,” he said, waiting till the market settles down a bit. 

For example, these can be people who’ve sold their house and are renting in the meantime, Schaeffer said. 

In some cases, people frustrated by the difficulty in finding an existing home are building one, he said. Schaeffer noted that the Census Bureau reported that housing starts are up 22.3% from a year ago. 

But even that comes with its own challenges, including a shortage of materials. 

Instead of six months to build, Schaeffer said, “now it’s more like eight, nine, 10 months.”