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Uncertain future for historic Ukiah pear facility

Mendocino County has been losing pears at a rate of almost 100 acres a year. In 1970 Mendocino County supported 4,815 acres of pears and currently in 2007 there are only 2,047 acres left. Competition from abroad has hurt our local pear industry, driving down prices and destroying the market for canned fruit by making fresh fruit available all year around. For almost a century, the Alex R. Thomas Company and its Ukiah packing shed have been prominent fixtures in the Mendocino pear industry. After enduring decades of agricultures financial rollercoaster, the company is on shakey ground. Tom Thomas, who heads the business founded in 1919 by his father, Alex R. Thomas, denied the company is in serious trouble. We think our debt is manageable. Thomas said the company’s only serious financial problem was with its gift basket business, GOTFRUIT.COM. The business folded January 2, leaving many people who had paid for subscriptions without fruit. He said he expects the pear packing shed, once the largest in Northern California to open for the pear harvest this summer as it has each season for the last 90 years. At its peak, the company employed almost 700 people during harvest season. The Thomas family also has made generous donations to the community, including $300,000 in 1995 to help build a $1.1 million dollar plaza in downtown Ukiah that is named after Alex R. Thomas. According to county and court records, the company since 2004 has taken out loans from the Savings Bank of Mendocino County that add up to at least 7 million dollars. According to property records, Thomas and his company own land worth more than 7 million dollars in Mendocino County. Another dozen properties located mostly outside of Mendocino County serve as collateral for some $550,000 owed to siblings who are no longer partners in the company. Other creditors have sought liens and court judgements against Thomas and the company. Thomas said in court filings that he only processes, packs and markets the pears for growers. He does not pay until he is paid. It’s not clear what led to the pear company’s financial woes. The pear business has been in decline for decades but seems to have stablilized, agriculture officials say. Bengston said the Alex R. Thomas Company has helped the Ukiah Valley pear business from shrinking even more. It was one of three packing sheds in the county that processed pears from other local farmers as well as the Sacramento Valley. It would be sad and very unfortunate to lose the Thomas packing sheds. It would definetely be the end of and era.
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