In the Merrimack Valley: In 1995 Fire Destroys Malden Mills

MassMoments reminds us that on this day – December 11, 19995 –  fire destroyed three buildings at Malden Mills in Lawrence. This company produced the well-known Polartec fabric. The loss of 3,000 jobs was a catastrophe in the making for the communities of Lawrence and Methuen.

The compassionate promise of the mill owner Aaron Feuerstein to keep his employees on the payroll  for a few months and to rebuild on the same site struck a cord thoughout the region and the country. For guidance in making the decision he “turned to the Torah”, the book of Jewish law.

In a 60 Minutes interview he noted:

You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he’s poor and he’s needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non-Jew in your community,” says Feuerstein, who spent $300 million of the insurance money and then borrowed $100 million more to build a new plant that is both environmentally friendly and worker friendly.

In the end – his commitment to social responsibility caused him to file for bankruptcy and lose control of his family business, but Feurerstein remains a legend – almost a folk hero – and the company survived though in the hands of others.

Read the full MassMoments article here and the 60 Minutes story here.

Do you have any stories or comments about this fire and Aaron Feurerstein? Please share them.