Landmark Marcal sign lights up the Elmwood Park sky again

The Record

ELMWOOD PARK - With much fanfare, the landmark Marcal sign overlooking Route 80 was relighted Thursday night after being dark for almost five years, signaling what the paper-products company's owner says is the revitalization of the facility and its brand.

Executives from Soundview Paper Co.; state and local officials; members of the Marcalus family, who founded the Marcal business; and employees were present among about 300 people for the marquee's relighting, which occurred just before 6:30 p.m. The gathering included Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., state Sen. Nellie Pou and Elmwood Park Mayor Richard Mola.

The Marcal sign was erected in 1948 and is a prominent feature for motorists traveling on Route 80. The plant's former owner turned the sign off in 2009, and during the past month, Soundview has been refurbishing it.

Soundview, which bought Marcal Paper Mills in April 2012, wanted to have the sign shining in time for the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford this Sunday. John McLean, Soundview's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said area residents have an emotional connection to the sign, which sits atop the paper products plant.

Relighting the sign also was a way to celebrate Soundview's efforts to rebuild the Marcal name, the brand of the company's toilet tissue, paper towels and facial products, said Soundview President and Chief Executive Officer George Wurtz..

Since purchasing financially struggling Marcal for an undisclosed sum, Soundview, part of Atlas Holdings LLC, has been stabilizing the company and positioning it for growth, Wurtz said. Soundview abandoned the Small Steps branding that the former owner had instituted, has redesigned the products' packaging and has reopened old channels of distribution, such as producing private-label paper towels for The Home Depot.

"We know what we are, and we're very proud and pleased to continue that positioning in the marketplace," McLean said.

Since the purchase, Soundview was awarded $25.4 million in tax credits for its factory from the state Economic Development Authority, through the Grow New Jersey Program, that helped retain 500 jobs. During the past 20 months, Soundview has made nearly $10 million improvements at the plant. It has also boosted productivity by 20 percent and sales increased 19 percent, Wurtz said.

Marcal founder Nicolas Marcalus came to the United States from Sicily in 1905 and launched what would become Marcal Paper Mills in 1932. The company fell on hard times in 2006, and Marcal filed for Chapter 11 protection and was bought by Highland Capital Management in 2008. It debuted Marcal Small Steps, made from 100 percent recycled material, in December of that year.

Soundview's view was that this repositioning, supposed to signify taking "small steps" to a healthier environment, was a misstep, McLean said.

"Within the first six days that we owned the company, we began a process to modify the package to highlight Marcal in every way . and began the process of revitalizing the brand with a link to its historical, iconic position," McLean said.

Mark Johnson, 62, of West Milford has worked for Marcal for 34 years and said the relighting of the sign was meaningful for employees.

"The lighting of the sign is really important, because that's been a landmark to this area," Johnson said. "I remember as a kid - I grew up in Paterson - Route 80 wasn't even built, we used to ride by and see it on Market Street."