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112-year-old US Apparel Maker In Pa. To Close

"We knew that it was change or die," Meck said. "We had to reinvent ourselves."

Change or die. It became a way of life as Fessler bucked the odds and enjoyed years of double-digit growth.

So when retail sales took a nosedive amid the worst economic crisis in 75 years, Meck knew he had to pivot once more. Gathering his employees together, he told them: "Is it more important for half of you to work, or more important for all of you to go out of business?" Fessler laid off nearly half the workforce.

The smaller, leaner company was profitable for a while. But the good times didn't last. Sales plummeted again in 2010, and Meck could no longer cut his way to prosperity. He had to grow revenues while reducing Fessler's dependence on women's fashion. His team began working on new products and new markets, including a flame-resistant shirt for firefighters and utility workers that Meck said showed great promise.

But he needed time, and he needed money, and both were in short supply.

In the end, he couldn't find the cash. And a few months ago, the bank called Fessler's loan. The company was doomed.

Given its weak cash flow â¿¿ Fessler's sales were down 50 to 75 percent from their pre-recession peak of $25 million per year â¿¿ did it ever stand a chance?

Meck, a wily businessman with nearly four decades of experience, insisted Fessler could have survived had he found a willing lender.

"Very quickly it became clear that new regulations that were being placed on banks were crippling banks' ability to do business, and it didn't take along for that to rumble right down and hit us square in the face," he said.

Meck's lament about tightened credit is a common one among small- and medium-sized manufacturers, said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers.

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