QUEENS, N.Y. - For more than 30 years workers at an 80,000 square foot factory in Long Island City have been handcrafting ties for the iconic Brooks Brothers brand.
Brooks Brothers says it has been making ties within 10 miles of its flagship store in Manhattan for well more than 100 years.
But even this proud legacy is not safe from the coronavirus.
Brooks Brothers has filed labor notices saying it may shut the plant in August — laying off 136 workers. It cites unforeseeable business circumstances prompted by COVID-19.
Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, says these types of jobs are so valuable to the local economy.
“When you look at companies like Brooks Brothers in the area, they don’t just provide locally. They provide globally. So they are bringing in money from around the world to support the New York economy, as well as employing New Yorkers while they’re doing it," Lusskin said.
Manufacturing has been on the decline in the city for decades. In the late 1960’s it accounted for 23 percent of all local jobs. By last December, manufacturing had plunged to just 1.5 percent of all jobs.
And the coronavirus has taken a further toll this spring - wiping out about a third of what few manufacturing jobs left.
“So clearly the crisis that we’re seeing on the ground in neighborhoods across the city is affecting the manufacturing industry. And this is a real blow to so many working people across the city because these are good jobs," said Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future.
Five years ago, Columbia University awarded Brooks Brothers the age smart award — for valuing older employees at its factory and alteration center.
At the time, more than half of the employees were older than 50, and many were in their 60’s and 70’s.
“Manufacturing is one of those unique fields were people build up incredible skills and I think they often get the wages that accommodate for the skills that people have," Bowles said.
A Brooks Brothers spokesman tells NY1 the factory here is important to the company's heritage and the decision is subject to change if "alternative solutions" are found.
Some see that as a sign the company might keep the plant open in return for labor concessions.
A representative for Workers United, the union representing the employees, declined to comment.
If the factory does close, experts say it would be hard for many of the employees to find similiar jobs, at the same wage.