Dan Hust | Democrat
LEISURE TIME SPRING Water’s new owner, Francine Lavoie, and former owner Bruce Reynolds.
Leisure Time changes hands; new owner predicts expansion
By Dan Hust
KIAMESHA LAKE Francine Lavoie admits she’s been impossible to find lately.
Unless, of course, you’re looking inside the Leisure Time Spring Water plant in Kiamesha Lake.
Its 72,000 square feet have, in essence, become her new home, where she’s coordinating the recovery of the struggling business she now owns.
“It was a hard deal to put together,” she admits of a bankruptcy purchase completed two weeks ago.
Lavoie’s Boreal Water Collection company, however, paid $2.6 million just for the bottling works, with the delivery service going to Arctic Falls in Cedar Grove, NJ.
It’s a bittersweet outcome for former Leisure Time CEO Bruce Reynolds, who is still wrestling with the personal bankruptcy he was forced to file as the family company faltered.
“With the way the economy’s been, it’s been a struggle.… I loaned a lot of money to the company, and I lost it all,” he admitted. “We did the best we could under the circumstances.”
For 125 years, a Reynolds has been at the helm of the company, which began by selling ice and eventually expanded into frozen foods and spring water, serving a large swath of New York and New Jersey, including the metro area.
Bruce Reynolds has been part of that empire for the past 40 years, and even though his family no longer owns the company, he’s staying on as vice president of operations.
“I’m happy it’s continuing,” he said. “… And nobody really lost their jobs.”
That’s true, according to Lavoie, who said about 30 jobs will stay with her, while the other 15 will be moved to Arctic Falls’ delivery operation, housed for now at the Kiamesha Lake facility.
“I’m very proud of that,” she said, sitting in front of cards and flowers from grateful employees. “I come from a small community, so I know what that means.”
Lavoie accomplished a similar feat a decade ago when she rescued Boreal from bankruptcy, along with its 25 employees. Based in Quebec, Canada, Boreal is now a publicly traded company, and business is booming so much so that Lavoie sought to expand into the U.S. last year.
“We are the #1 leader in Canada… in private-label bottling,” she explained proudly.
She looked at companies for sale in Florida and Virginia but became one of eight people vying for Leisure Time when she recognized its proximity to New York City.
Now she’s relocating her family from Montreal to Rock Hill and is burying herself in an effort to restore a company she feels has too long ignored expanding sales in favor of a traditional delivery model.
“That is a decreasing business,” she observed.
She is glad not to have to focus on trucking and is excited about the bottling works, of which she said only about 20 percent is utilized, leaving room to grow.
“We will expand the business,” Lavoie promised, adding that personalized glass bottles and sparkling (carbonated) water will soon become Leisure Time specialties, creating a need for a second shift this summer.
It’s a challenge this former chemical engineer relishes.
“I switched from black gold [oil] to blue gold,” she remarked with a laugh. “I really believe in the future of water.”
Leisure Time’s spring near Livingston Manor sits on land recently leased for potential natural gas drilling, but Lavoie’s experience tells her there’s probably nothing to worry about.
“It cannot make a problem,” the 10-year Exxon employee predicted, though she will investigate the matter further. “If it was oil, I would think differently, but it is gas.”
In the meantime, she’s happy to be spending so much time in Sullivan County.
“So far, I find the people very friendly,” she remarked. “I’m very, very impressed, and it makes me feel good.”
Reynolds is glad Leisure Time will continue to exist and possibly thrive.
“Hopefully everybody appreciates what we did,” he said of his family’s 125-year legacy.
And perhaps that legacy is not yet over, thanks to Lavoie someone who has built success out of ashes elsewhere.
“We’re going to turn this one around, too,” said Reynolds.