NJ company filling toilet paper void – a year after devastating fire destroyed factory

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Just weeks after resuming business following a devastating fire, a New Jersey-based paper company finds itself playing a key role amid the coronavirus outbreak.

That’s because Marcal Paper – in business for nearly 90 years – makes toilet paper, a suddenly valuable commodity that has been in short supply since Americans were urged to stay home to avoid catching the potentially deadly bug.

The factory is now running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, producing 170 tons of paper towels and toilet paper daily, according to NorthJerseycom.

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“Six weeks ago, coronavirus wasn’t on anyone's radar,” Rob Baron, the company’s president and CEO, told NorthJersey.com. “Then we slowly saw an uptick. But it wasn't until the weekend before last when we saw inventories just plummet.”

How brisk is the company’s business?

“The demand exceeds the paper coming off the machine,” Baron said.

Shoppers in New Jersey, like elsewhere across the country, have been buying toilet paper and other items in bulk quantities as fears of shortages spread along with the virus, which has struck more than 9,000 Americans and killed more than 130.

The people at Marcal know something about sudden upheaval.

The Marcal Paper plant in Elmwood Park, N.J., is seen prior to last year's fire. (Google Maps)

The Marcal Paper plant in Elmwood Park, N.J., is seen prior to last year's fire. (Google Maps)

On Jan. 30, 2019, a furious fire in frigid cold temperatures destroyed about 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 21 paper-making lines at the company’s complex in Elmwood Park, about 21 miles northwest of New York City, which had long been a local landmark, NorthJersey.com reported.

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Fortunately, no one died or was seriously injured – but about 500 employees temporarily lost their jobs, WNBC-TV reported.

Now, a year later and with a smaller operation, Marcal has a chance to build back what was lost in the blaze – although sadly it’s the coronavirus outbreak that has brought forth that opportunity.

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Marcal’s employees have been struggling like anyone else with issues of social distancing and doing whatever else they can do to avoid catching the virus or passing it along to others.

“This is tough on the employees,” Baron said. “The fire brought us closer together, and now a lot of us are working remotely. I wish this thing (the outbreak) never happened.”