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Thomas Dairy, Fifth Generation Rutland Milk Business, To Close

Holstein cows
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on the Vermont dairy industry because demand dropped as schools and restaurants closed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another casualty in Vermont's dairy industry. Rutland-based Thomas Dairy will close next month because its sales plummeted when schools and restaurants shut down this spring.

The family-owned company has survived for one year shy of a century, enduring the Great Depression and multiple upheavals in the dairy industry. What the owners could not foresee was the impact of the coronavirus.

“In mid-March, when UVM shut down overnight, we lost our largest customer,” said Abbey Thomas, marketing director and a fifth-generation owner.

More from VPR: Farmers Seek Financial Help As COVID-19 Piles New Pressure On An Already Stressed Industry

Besides the University of Vermont, the business lost sales as schools and restaurants closed around the region. A federally-funded anti-hunger program that bought Thomas Dairy milk helped sustain the business through the summer, but that program has not been renewed yet.

“It was really not something we could depend on long-term,” Thomas said.

"After 99 years and five generations of building this family business, it certainly was a terribly difficult decision to face." — Abbey Thomas, co-owner, Thomas Dairy

The owners conducted a national search with a consultant to find a buyer for the dairy, ultimately speaking with 27 different parties.

But the effort was unsuccessful. The family decided this week to close Oct. 1.

“After 99 years and five generations of building this family business, it certainly was a terribly difficult decision to face,” Thomas said.

More from VPR: Farming's COVID Crisis: Specialty Cheese Sales, Milk Prices Plummet

She added the owners are now trying to help their 30 employees find new work, while also looking for a new market for the three farms that supply the milk. Thomas said she was gratified by the outpouring of support from the community.

“We do have a few weeks left of service, and we are grateful to the community, and our employees for sticking with us, and our customers as well,” she said.

Correction 3:28 p.m.: The headline of this post was updated to reflect Thomas Dairy is a milk business but no longer a farm.

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