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Unforeseen consequences

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Church closures spell hard times for candle maker

By Rick Moriarty, Religion News Serivce

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- One of this city's oldest candle makers is planning to slash its work force in part because of decreased demand from a shrinking number of Catholic churches to buy its products.

Emkay Candle told its 46 employees that as many as 38 of them will be laid off in 90 days. That would leave just eight people to make candles at the company, which has been making them at the same location since its founding in 1925.

Rolly DeVore, Emkay's general manager, said the actual number of layoffs may wind up at less than 38, but not much less.

"I think maybe 15 will remain after the whole thing is done, but I don't know," he said. "It all depends on what the order input is going to be in the next two months. Any way you look at it, it's a significant reduction in employment."

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DeVore said the company is dropping all of its unprofitable product lines and consolidating its manufacturing space from five floors to one.

He blamed a major consolidation trend in the Roman Catholic Church for a drop in business. As churches have closed, the company has lost customers for its candles.

"Once they take three churches and make them into one, you lose two customers," he said.

Another factor in the drop in business has been insurance companies pressuring churches not to leave candles burning except during Masses.

That's bad news for Emkay because for the past 15 years, it has made only religious candles. Though it makes them for all denominations and for nondenominational churches, its biggest customer is the Catholic Church.

For many years, the company made commercial candles for use in people's homes, as well as religious candles, but pulled out of the commercial candle business 15 years ago after cheap mass-produced foreign imports began cutting into its sales.

DeVore said the company continued to sell religious candles because churches are more brand-loyal than commercial customers. With the reduction in church sales, the company plans to stop making hand-decorated candles that can be up to 6 feet tall and 4 inches in diameter, he said.

There once were five candle companies operating in Syracuse. The last two remaining are Emkay and Cathedral Candle Co., which was opened in 1897 and makes only church candles.

[Moriarty writes for The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y.]

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April 11-24, 2014

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