Fort Smith-based Weldon Williams & Lick, a 122-year-old business and an iconic enterprise in the region’s business history, has been forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to furlough a little more than 100 employees – 40% of the company’s workforce.
WW&L President Tracey Geren said that 75% of the company’s customers have been hit hard by shutdowns and other operational reductions caused by the pandemic.
“Weldon, Williams & Lick has been greatly impacted by the COVID 19 outbreak and the effect it has had on the live entertainment industry, which represents over 75% of our customer base. Since the beginning of this outbreak and complete shutdown of live events, we have focused on staying true to our values and taking care of our customers and employees,” Geren said in a statement.
The company prints tickets, badges and other materials for major sporting events, parks, museums, rodeos, festivals, colleges, building security, and state and local governments. Company officials have said they are secretive about their clients because the clients demand security with the tickets and other sensitive admission items produced by WWL. The company operates out of about 200,000 square feet of floor space in downtown Fort Smith.
But it’s no secret that many WWL customers have been closed as a result of COVID, meaning credentialing items such as season ticket books, pit passes, admission badges, and parking passes are not needed. The same is also true for tickets and other materials for museums, fairs, festivals and concerts.
“Although we were hopeful for a quick resolution, it appears that the gathering of large crowds of people – which is in our very DNA – will not return soon,” Geren noted. “As a result, we have made the very difficult decision to furlough approximately 40% of our workforce and to initiate other cost-containment measures. We have outstanding employees who work tirelessly to take care of our customers and be good stewards of the community in which we live. We hope to be able to retain or rehire the majority of these employees in the future.”
The company said the furlough will be for one month, with layoffs after that if economic conditions do not improve.
WWL has been in business since 1898. William McKinley was the U.S. President, and the country entered and concluded a war with Spain following the sinking of the USS Maine. John D. Rockefeller controlled more than 80% of oil produced in the United States. About 95% of tickets for the Ringling Brothers Circus were at one time printed by WWL. The company in the 1920s began printing tickets for professional sports teams when it won a ticket contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. WWL also printed about 8.8 million tickets for the 2012 London Olympics.