Michigan Ladder Company in Ypsilanti closes after 120 years

YPSILANTI, Mich. – The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on Michigan’s economy, especially small businesses.

The Michigan Ladder Company opened in 1901 on the shores of the Huron River in Ypsilanti. The company became the oldest and last wooden ladder manufacturer in the country.

“This is the kind of thing, as I’ve said to others, will haunt me for the rest of my life. What is it I could have done differently?” said owner Tom Harrison. “In the fourth quarter of 2019, China began shutting down and we didn’t understand that we had a pandemic on our hands.”

READ: Macomb County business owner works to stay afloat during COVID pandemic

Just as ladder parts started showing up again, the state was shut down. No one could tell Harrison if his 25-employee company qualified as an essential business, and by the time he started back up, competitors that were open in other states took over.

“You’re talking about two to three months of essentially being out of business and in this day and age, I understand those customers don’t want to wait. If they can get product from another source, they’ll do that. I understand that,” Harrison said.

Additionally, the global economy ground to a halt last year.

“Could we have survived any one or two of those? I think we could have. All three of them together became too much for us,” Harrison said.

The former Ford and Carhart executive knew the company he bought in 2004 had to close. Harrison told employees in January but the business closed for good Friday.

“I’m disappointed. Everybody here is disappointed,” he said.

Harrison said most of his employees have been able to find other work. He’s uncertain what is next for him, but he says it was a tough lesson in how quickly things can go south in a business.

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