In the Spotlight

News & Features
Fingerhut closure hits St. Cloud hard
By Tim Post
Minnesota Public Radio
January 17, 2002

More than half of Fingerhut's Minnesota-based employees work at the company's St. Cloud facility. Fingerhut is St. Cloud's largest employer, with nearly 2,700 workers. Employees at the plant say they're surprised and disappointed that Fingerhut's parent company plans to shut down the catalog business. City leaders in St. Cloud say the company's departure presents a huge economic challenge for the community.

Fingerhut in St. Cloud
Fingerhut is the largest employer in St. Cloud, with a workforce of 2,700 people. City officials are bracing for the loss of those jobs, which will be a huge blow to the city's economy.
(MPR Photo/Tim Post)

Managers at Fingerhut's massive St. Cloud warehouse facility told their employees late Wednesday about the company's planned closure.

Chris James was among the workers streaming out of the building at the end of the day shift. James' job at Fingerhut is to move products from the warehouse to a packaging area. He has worked at Fingerhut for 16 years, and his wife has worked here for 18 years.

And while James hopes a deal is struck to keep the plant open, he's not counting on it. He says his family will just have to plan around the closure.

"We'll find a way. I have another job too, so maybe I'll primarily focus on that...We just built a house so we'll find a way to make do. Where there's a will there's a way," James says.

St Cloud's Fingerhut facility is where the company stores much of its merchandise. It's also where a lot of the orders are filled. Leona Patterson has worked at Fingerhut packaging orders for nearly 20 years.

Patterson says she alway knew there was a chance the plant could shut down, especially in light of recent national economic woes. But she says the talk of a shutdown is still a shock.

"So it's a big letdown. But we're hoping maybe there will be a buyer out there that might come in and buy it out. But right now we are all kind of in limbo. Kind of a big blow," says Patterson.

State Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud
State Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud, says he's very concerned about the impact of the Fingerhut closure on the St. Cloud area economy. He talked with MPR's Tim Pugmire about how the state might help the employees involved. Listen to the interview.
(MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

Workers at the plant are holding on to the idea that a buyer will swoop in and save Fingerhut. But most of them realize that's nearly impossible, especially since Fingerhut's parent company says it's unlikely to happen.

St. Cloud Mayor John Ellenbecker, who just took office two months ago, says the city will try its best to help find a buyer for the Fingerhut operation.

"If there is any hope of that I think we need to pursue it. If that simply is not going to go anywhere, then I think we have to do what we can to facilitate buyers for those buildings, and get new owners into them as soon as possible."

Ellenbecker says there isn't much else the city can do to help workers if they lose their jobs. He says the state should step in to help.

Ellenbecker says there's no way to know how the closure could affect the community as a whole, but he says the loss of nearly 2,700 workers is a huge blow to the area's economy.

Whatever happens, Fingerhut workers in St. Cloud say they just want to know what they can expect.

Karla, a Fingerhut employee who didn't want her last name used, says the toughest part is not knowing the future of the facility. She's worked here for 19 years.

"We are wondering - should we all charge off to the unemployment office tomorrow? We have to find out how long we will be open, how long our benefits are going to last, the chance of somebody buying us. I don't know," she says.

Officials at Fingerhut's parent company, Federated Department Stores, say they expect that all Fingerhut operations will be shut down by the end of the year.

More from MPR
  • Federated to close Fingerhut
  • Tennessee to lose 1,300 jobs