Related story: Community shaken up over Mayfield tours ending
As crowds took their final tour Friday of the Mayfield Dairy, Jamaison Schuler heard from many of them.
"Please don't close the visitor center," said Nancy Rowsey, who has fond memories of visits with her grandchildren who are now in high school. "I promised my grandkids I would stop by and make an appeal."
Schuler, senior manager of corporate communications for Dean Foods Co., which purchased Mayfield Dairy in 1990, flew in from Texas for the visitor center's final day.
The company announced at the end of September that it was closing the center and ending tours for the foreseeable future due to the slow economy.
"Right now, we don't know what the future holds," said Schuler, who noted that many have commented on the decision via the center's Facebook page and phone calls to the company's call center.
Schuler said the decision to shut down the visitor center for the remainder of 2011 was not made lightly.
"We know the impacts will be felt in the community and by employees," he said.
With an expansion under way, the addition of a new filler room could mean jobs for those currently working in the visitor center. Jobs will be shuffled based on bidding through a seniority system, Schuler said. There also could be a change in operating hours or a more seasonal approach to the business.
"Those are some of the suggestions we have received from citizens of the community and we are hearing from civic leaders," Schuler said. "We are open to suggestions."
Dean Foods has a number of brands, with Mayfield being one of the largest and the only one with visitor centers, one in Braselton and one that will remain open in Athens, Tenn.
"Some operational adjustments are being made there, which could be replicated here in the future," Schuler said.
Schuler said an increase in the price of raw milk and the higher price of diesel fuel are among factors hitting Dean Foods as well as its competitors.
"We recognize the importance of this visitor center to the community but it's a tough time," said Schuler, who also pointed to a decline in milk sales. Maintaining volume is a significant challenge for the company. "There is a lot of competition in the beverage industry, and the economy is impacting shoppers' decisions."
"The center is an important asset for the community and for the Mayfield brand and we realize that," he added.