Paper making has been the economic backbone of Lee, Massachusetts, as well as other parts of the Western Massachusetts Berkshire area, for more than 200 years. At one time, there were 25 paper mills in this town. The first successful paper from wood pulp happened here, as did many other firsts. In 2008, Schweitzer Mauduit, the largest local employer of paper makers in town, closed the doors of its four local paper mills, and Mead Westvaco closed one, leaving only one mill running: They put it up for sale.
It is still running: two employees bought the two mill buildings, keeping the Willow Mill, the oldest mill in town, running and employing 122 employees. They renamed the business Onyx Specialty Papers. We interviewed owners Pat Begrowicz and Chris Matthews about their decision to buy it and their plans for the business.
This documentary will look at this small town with a deep history of paper, and explore what it takes to keep a business running in the face of real pressures. We will look at how pressures have always been there, when for example, 160 years ago, owners were struggling to find materials other than cotton to make paper, and myriad other challenges over the years.
To run a business like this means to take risks and face obstacles, most recently the pandemic related challenges, and to make decisions. We will explore this story with Pat and Chris, and others.