Poplarville industrial icon now closed

Published 3:05 pm Friday, February 25, 2011

Poplarville’s industrial community has lost a long-standing business icon with the closing of the Movie Star facility after 57 years.

From the grand opening of the plant in October, 1953, on U.S., Highway 11 across from then Pearl River Jr. College, the plant saw employment increase to a high of approximately 750 at its peak. The final 21 employees said their formal good-byes Friday at a small catfish luncheon at the plant.

David Hannaford, head of the Poplarville operation and a 40-year employee with the company, said it had been a good 57 years.

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“It has been a tremendous ride for us, and we all want to make sure that everybody of Pearl River County that’s been a part of us, of the appreciation that we want to show toward that.”

Hannaford said several factors were behind the company’s closing, including the recent economic downturn and changes in the global marketplace that have seen decades of hemorrhaging in the U.S. textile industry.

After 2000, Movie Star, Inc., which had its corporate offices in New York City, merged with Frederick’s of Hollywood to expand the company’s outlet presence. With changes in the garment industry and the downturn in the economy, a sale of the Frederick’s division was made to an intimate apparel company in New Jersey, Dolce Vita and its president Jack Thekkekara. Movie Star’s New York offices were closed at the end of 2010.

Hannaford said fortunately some of the New York employees were able to transfer to New Jersey to the new company. He said some of the Poplarville inventory and supplies were transferred to New Jersey, with the last shipment scheduled to leave Friday.

Hannaford said of the remaining 21 employees, all had from 18 to 45 years of service with the company.

“I’ve got some ladies that’s been coming down from Lumberton … I was with them when I was in Lumberton and I moved to Poplarville in 1978… and they came down when we closed that operation in 1997-98.

“It’s like a second family,” he said. “Even in this transition these people, and even a few that’s gone a little bit earlier than us … we had this company come down and (they) were amazed what they saw work-ethic-wise.

“People were still working in order to make sure we were doing the right thing.

“And that’s what I want to make sure everybody understands, it’s a legacy we want to leave here, that we’ve done everything we can to support this company and keep it here as long it has. They (Movie Star’s employees) have done it to the very end,” Hannaford said.

Hannaford said there may be a few employees still at the building next week completing the closure.

“You hate to see people lose jobs and a business shut down,” said Pearl River County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, who mentioned that at one time the firm employed about 750 people in the town.

These sentiments were echoed by Poplarville Mayor Billy Spiers who was contacted by telephone Thursday.

“We’re going to definitely miss them,” Spiers said. “Movie Star had supported a lot of families around here through the years.”

Pearl River County owns the building and the Board of Supervisors have had a walk-through of the facility but have not discussed the matter in full detail, Lumpkin said. At present he said the building will be “mothballed” after Movie Star leaves.

There have been “a couple of folks looked at the building, and parts of the building,” Lumpkin said, which included the Mississippi Development Authority and other development agencies, and it has been made known that the facility will be available for development. One individual had looked at part of the building “a while back about moving a business in part of it.”

“We’re looking at breaking it up — just doing whatever we need to try to get the building going back into service. We will be trying to figure out what we can do to either lease it or sell it, or whatever.”

Lumpkin estimates the building has about 211,000 square feet that is divided into different sections.

Hannaford said the company and its employees are sad to see this era end.

“We are highly grateful for the community of Pearl River County. We want to thank the (Pearl River County) Board of Supervisors for the full cooperation and all the years of service that they have gone toward us and also for everyone in the community for what they have shown toward us.”