Binding Their Ties to a Now-defunct Company

Ralph Cirillo checks out some of the books that were printed at the Haddon Bindery in Camden. He and 124 other workers received layoff notices on Christmas Eve in 1976 when the firm was going out of business. Bill Hopkins/Courier-Post

Camden Courier-Post – August 9, 1999

By Bill Hopkins, Courier-Post Staff

It was Christmas Eve 1976, and it was a sad day for Ralph Cirillo and his 124 colleagues at the Haddon Bindery.

The 125 workers at the bindery on 11th and Linden Streets in Camden had just been given layoff notices. The firm, which had thrived for 34 years, was going out of business. It seems the bindery was unable to make its loan payments and Heritage Finance Company took over the operation and padlocked the doors.

“I believe they (the owners) folded the tent and “brought all the business up to New York,” said Cirillo, noting that the new owners, brothers Mortimer and Bernard Sendor of New York City, sold the bindery buildings to another New York firm for $375,000 in early 1975.

In its heyday in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s the bindery bound two-thirds of all the Bibles printed in the United States, as well as school textbooks, novels, Book-of-the-Month-Club books, and medical and other professional books.

Cirillo still remembers the good old days at the bindery. Now in his 70s, Cirillo was a machine operator at the bindery, where he had spent much of his working life. He said many of his his co-workers were just as sentimental about the closing.

Mary Skokowski, 79, a Gloucester City widow whose husband, Stanley, also worked at the bindery, said, “I liked going to work there every day. I don’t know why they closed. I guess they got tired of running the business.”

Bob Purden of Gloucester City, in his 60s, worked in the folding department for 20 years. He was temporarily laid off prior to the firm’s collapse.” A lot of my friends there lost three and four weeks of vacation pay besides their jobs,” he remembered.

Edmund Young Sr. of Pennsauken, now in his early 70s, started there as a bookbinder journeyman in 1952.

“I loved working there, it was like a career. Instead of going to college, I went there,” said the father of five who now lives with his wife Marian, in Pennsauken.

When the firm closed, “A lot of the workers were older (than he) and were so heartbroken, it was like losing your home.

“Some died over it,” he believes.” You know, it was their life and they were close to retirement.”

Cirillo believes that the founder, John H. Esak, who started the business in 1942 was getting too old.

“He had an apartment in Camden and a place in Florida. He just wanted to sell out and retire to Florida,” he said.

But a Courier-Postnews story at the time reported, “Troubles for the firm began some years ago when the publishing business began to fall on hard times. The cost of labor and paper has cut profits for related industries as well as publishing houses.

“The bindery, whose product is really a part of the publishing operation, found it did not have enough business to support its costs.”

Nonetheless, Cirillo and his former colleagues said they still miss the good old days.

The headlines during the firm’s last three weeks, in Jan. ’76, were filled with hope and despair.

  • Jan. 9: Union sees hope for Bindery.
  • Jan 10: Bindery’s attorney optimistic.
  • Jan 13: Owners offer plan to save Bindery.
  • Jan. 20: Haddon Bindery gets aid. (The aid was an informal loan guarantee of $300,000 from the Small Business Administration, but it never panned out.)
  • Jan 26: Bindery closes its books, Owners give up loan search; auction set.
  • Jan 28: Bindery auction ‘like a wake’ – Its former employees watch plant go on the block.

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