Pepsi to close plant in Reading; 95 jobs impacted

READING, Pa. - The neighborhood around FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading is about to be dealt another blow.

Pepsi has announced plans to close its longtime soft drink plant at Centre Avenue and Bern Street in Reading, effective November 6.

The move will impact 95 employees, according to a September 9 letter PepsiCo, the soda-maker's parent company, sent to Reading Mayor Wally Scott and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The letter did not state whether the workers will be laid off or relocated or whether Pepsi plans to move operations to another location in Berks County.

"They're not sure whether they have a job or they don't, but they're saying they've been told that it's going to Allentown," Scott said of the impacted workers.

Employees said they were told in a meeting on Friday, September 9. They said, if they wish to work at other locations, they'll need to reapply for jobs.

"When you lose 95 jobs, it doesn't sound like a lot to a lot of people, but to the people who lose their jobs, it's their livelihood."

In a statement to 69 News on Tuesday, Kerry Erlanger, a spokesperson for the company, said:

Map: Pepsi plant in Reading

"After careful consideration, PepsiCo intends to close our beverage warehouse in Reading and move work to other area locations. We are committed to supporting our associates during this time of transition and continue to be dedicated to serving our customers and consumers in the area."

The Pepsi plant in Reading dates back decades, operating since 1940.

"I can remember when I was a kid in the 50s, they were out there on Centre Avenue," Scott said.

Neighbors told 69 News they're surprised the warehouse will shut down.

"It's been there forever, as long as I can remember," said Shane Focht, a neighbor.

Many of the plant's employees are frequent customers of other longtime businesses in the neighborhood, including Mike's Sandwich Shop across the street, at 1755 Centre Avenue, and Mike's Tavern at 135 Exeter Street.

Earl Dunkelberger owns Mike's Sandwich Shop. His father worked at PepsiCo. Dunkelberger said he isn't worried about losing lunch customers, but he is thinking about the property.

"The biggest problem you're going to have is, like any place, you're going to have a vacant building, which isn't good in a city," said Dunkelberger.

The neighborhood lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the years leading up to the Dana Corporation finally closing its nearby auto part-making plant in 2000, when it let go of the last 600 workers.

Much of the former Glidden Paint property across the street from the Pepsi plant also remains vacant.

Pepsi's move also comes nearly 20 years after rival Coca-Cola abandoned its aging bottling plant at Fifth and Bern streets, about three blocks away from Pepsi, and relocate to a facility it built off Route 222 in Maidencreek Township.

The former Coke site is now occupied by Uhrig Construction and Hannahoe Painting.

"So many businesses are going out and why? For what reason? Because there's a lot of people who live in this city and they need jobs," said Sharon Lund, a neighbor frustrated the warehouse will close.

In an article posted Sunday, Business Insider reported that, with soda sales slumping, both Coke and Pepsi are looking to boost business with bottled water.

The website reported that sales of bottled water in the United States have more than doubled in the last 15 years.

PepsiCo ended the trading day Tuesday with a share of its stock selling for $104.59, down $1.43 from Monday's close but up from $91.20 per share a year ago.

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