A worker walks past the Prime Tanning Co. tannery in Hartland in February 2011. Tasman Leather Group, which now owns the tannery, has announced it will close the facility by late summer, putting about 115 people out of work. Morning Sentinel file photo

Declining demand for leather products because of the coronavirus pandemic is forcing the longtime Tasman Leather Group tannery in Hartland to start decreasing operations with the intention of closing the facility in late summer, putting about 115 people out of work.

Tasman is a family-owned processor and supplier of premium leather produced in the United States for footwear, military items, garments, handbags and hospitality purposes.

The company makes high-quality leather items for U.S. brands and the U.S. armed forces, and owns specialized formulas used to create better-known leathers, including those sold under the Pitstop, Rage, Oldtown, Retro, Ram Tough and The Original Crazy Horse brands.

Norman Tasman, president of Tasman Leather Group, said Monday in a company-issued statement that officials are “deeply disappointed to end the tannery’s extended history, the last nine years of which are the product of a major restructuring and restart when the current ownership took control of the Prime Tanning facility.”

“The commitment and support that we received from our employees and our customers as we sought to adapt to structural changes in our markets has been remarkable,” Tasman wrote.

“However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the demand for our product, and reinstatement of that demand is uncertain both in timing and magnitude, making continued operations impossible. As a result, we will begin winding down our operations with a goal of closing the plant late summer.”

News of the tannery’s plans to close came as a shock to Hartland Town Manager Christopher Littlefield, who said in a telephone interview just after 3:30 p.m. Monday that he had learned of the situation less than an hour earlier so he could not say how the town will be affected.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Littlefield said. “I don’t have enough data. I haven’t even had enough time to understand what’s happening myself.

“I can’t tell you what the implications are, 100%, other than it’s going to be a negative impact. It’s definitely going to be a negative impact when you lose 115 jobs. I’m just as shocked as everyone else.”

An email sent to Norman Tasman on Monday afternoon seeking comment did not receive a reply.

The company statement, however, explained that orders for product will continue to be accepted at the plant.

“Orders that have been produced but not yet shipped will be shipped,” according to the statement. “Manufacturing orders that have been accepted, but not yet produced, will be reviewed and customers will be contacted shortly with confirmations as to whether those orders will be produced.”

Tasman itself has been in operation since 1947, according to the company.

Information at the company’s website reads: “For nearly 70 years now, the Tasman Group has been and continues to be a reliable processor and supplier of premium USA Hides and Skins to the global markets. Having a sustainable network of suppliers from coast to coast has allowed our volumes to steadily increased from the 4 hides, in 1947, to the approximately 160,000/week produced today in 2014. That means nearly, of all the USA cattle, 1 of 4 comes through a Tasman facility.”

Several years ago, the opportunity to acquire the Hartland tannery, one of the most-recognized finishing tanneries in the world, presented itself, according to information from Tasman.

According to the company: “The facility located in Hartland, Maine, had fallen under hard financial times, but maintained a talented and highly skilled group of American leather makers that would be a shame to stand by and fall to the wayside. After acquiring the tannery, we spent countless hours restoring the vintage facility and getting the heart and soul back into the leather. During this massive transition, we came across hundreds of precious formulas from deep within our tannery archives.”

Information provided by the Hartland Historical Society shows the first tannery in town was built in 1828 by Hiram & Thomas Dorman, on the lower end of Main Street, and later it was sold to Edward Hall Page Jr. A flood in 1887 caused major damage to the Page Tannery, forcing the closing of the tannery soon thereafter.

Greenville Shaw’s tannery, located on the upper dam, also ceased to operate.

In 1935, the Hartland Tannery Co. was founded by Meyer Kirstein and opened in 1937 in a former American Woolen Co. mill building. The tannery was sold in 1962 to Seagrave Corp.

In 1990, all operations except the leather division were sold and the company became Vista Resources Inc. Controlling interest in Vista was assumed by the Fuqua Family of Atlanta, which began to modernize the tannery.

In 2005, Irving Tanning filed for bankruptcy protection, and by September of that year had emerged from bankruptcy and was sold to Meriturn Partners LLC.

In 2007, Irving Tanning merged with Prime Tanning Co.

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