Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bancroft restarts its beret machines

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

Bancroft Cap Co. in Cabot turned on its sewing machines Tuesday as it resumed production of hundreds of thousands of berets it plans to deliver to the military this year, although a U.S. plant owned by a Canadian competitor finished its half of the huge contract last fall.

A shipment of wool arrived in Cabot yesterday from a new supplier in Wisconsin after Bancroft dropped a company that may have used foreign wool in violation of U.S. law, which does not allow the use of non-domestic materials in military berets.
The Defense Department wants Bancroft, which declared bankruptcy earlier this month, to return $2.9 million the military paid for some 340,000 berets that allegedly contained foreign wool.

Barry Goldman, Bancroft’s president, said he hopes to complete this year the final phase of his military contract calling for 360,000 more berets. (The Leader on Saturday incorrectly reported that number as 36,000.) Although Goldman claims Bancroft is the only U.S.-owned manufacturer of military berets, a Canadian firm with a subsidiary in Glade Springs, Va., split the multimillion dollar contract with Bancroft for some four million berets.

Beryl Borsook, whose family owns Dorothea Knitting Mills in Toronto, said Tuesday his U.S. subsidiary shipped the last of nearly two million berets last fall. “We have completed the contract and passed an audit,” Borsook said, explaining the military has accepted his company’s certification of the berets as 100 percent American in content and U.S. made.
“We’re in compliance with the Berry Amendment,” Borsook said, referring to the 65-year-old U.S. law requiring military uniforms and caps be all-American in content and manufacture.

The Defense Department, which paid Bancroft some $2.9 million for the disputed berets, is demanding repayment because of the alleged violation of the Berry Amendment. Dorothea Knitting has been in business since 1926 and has been in the U.S. since 1932, Borsook said. With the completion of the contract for the berets, the U.S. plant is now shut down, but it will reopen if he gets another contract for more military berets, Borsook said.

He said his company has been a proud supplier to the U.S. military for a long time. “We equipped the Green Berets during the Vietnam War,” Borsook said. Bancroft filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 16 and will amend its filing to show it has about $4 million in debts, which includes the $2.9 million the military wants returned.

Bancroft is calling back 25 workers — down from more than 100 a decade ago, Goldman said. It opened in Cabot in 1967, during the height of the Vietnam War. Before that, Bancroft leased a warehouse at Little Rock Air Force Base, Goldman said.
Bancroft will use Crescent Woolen of Wisconsin for materials to make the berets, instead of the previous supplier, R.M. Ott of Boston.

If Ott used imported wool, it was without his knowledge, Goldman insists. He blames much of Bancroft’s problems on the military, which ordered more berets than it needs. The Leader reported this month that the military has a year’s supply of berets. Including Bancroft’s disputed 340,000 berets, plus the 360,000 he intends to produce this year, Goldman thinks the military may have four years of berets in its warehouses.

He said despite a for-lease sign in front of the plant on Hwy. 367, he had no intention of shutting down but only to lease part of the building while his business was in a slump. Speculation that Bancroft had shut down was fueled by an absence of workers at the plant in December. “We always close for Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Goldman said.