Wool wholesaler closing shop

MIDDLEBURY — Only six months ago, the owner of Vermont Organic Fiber Co. (VOF) had high hopes of landing grant money that he said would have allowed him to expand operations and double his seven-person work force.
But last week saw VOF President Matthew Mole instead liquidating assets from the small Seymour Street-based enterprise he founded in 2000. Mole cited the recent recession and his inability to land critical economic development grants as the main reasons for his decision to close the wholesale supplier of yarns and fabrics made with certified organic wool.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to notify you that Vermont Organic Fiber Co. is going through a voluntary liquidation and will no longer be sourcing certified organic wool and selling products made with that wool,” Mole announced late last week in an e-mail.
Mole added that while VOF is closing, the “O-Wool” line of hand-knitting yarns will continue under new ownership. But that has not saved the seven VOF jobs that Mole had hoped to turn into 14 with the help of a $560,000 Community Development Block Grant. Plans called for Mole to use that federal CDBG money to leverage additional grants to expand activities in Middlebury, including starting a new mattress pad operation.
The Middlebury selectboard endorsed the company’s CDBG grant application.
But Mole confirmed during a telephone interview that he could not secure the CDBG grant because federal authorities first wanted to see evidence he had landed other grants. At the same time, some of his other prospective financial backers wanted to see Mole land the CDBG money before they lent their support, Mole said.
It proved a financial Catch-22 that Mole was unable to overcome.
“I just had to pull the plug, which was a real bummer,” said Mole, who last week pared his work force down to just himself. He is now focusing on liquidating his business inventory at the 52 Seymour St. headquarters, located behind Danforth Pewter.
“We have a bunch of different fabrics, and some finished products,” Mole said.
“Even while we are preparing to close our doors and liquidating our inventories there are many successes we can be proud of,” he said.
Mole thanked the many foreign wool growers; the out-of-state knitters, weavers and dyeing mills that processed the wool; and the customers who ordered VOF’s products.
“One aspect that I’ve particularly enjoyed through this process is the close relationships that have formed,” Mole said. “Work in our fun office as well as international transactions have not always been just about business, but sharing in a greater vision of working together to produce great products made in the most sustainable manner possible.”
Asked what he planned on doing after closing VOF, Mole said, “I anticipate staying in the organic fiber and textile world. I am still sorting that out.”
Mole said he appreciated the town’s backing in trying to acquire the CDBG grant.
“(Middlebury’s) willingness to work with me was fantastic,” Mole said.
The closure of VOF is the second bit of bad economic news Middlebury has received during the past month. In late April, RetailVision on Exchange Street announced it will shed approximately 20 of its 70 Middlebury employees by this August.
Addison County Economic Development Corp. Director Robin Scheu said she is disappointed to see VOF closing, instead of expanding.
“It’s always a hard thing when a company doesn’t make it,” Scheu said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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