By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff
WAKARUSA -- A handwritten sign taped to the front door read "Office closed until Monday," but officials at Travel Supreme were mum as to the reasons for stopping production and shutting the doors on Wednesday.
At the recreational vehicle maker's headquarters on S.R. 19, a man, who unlocked the entrance to the main office, declined to give his name but said business was slow as with other local RV factories so it has shut down for a few days and it intends to reopen on Monday.
How many employees have been impacted by the closure is unknown.
Travel Supreme, 66149 S.R. 19, was founded in May 1989 as a maker of luxury fifth wheels and 10 years later expanded into Class A motorhomes, according to the company's Web site. The site also contains information on the company's new 2009 model entry-level motorhome, the Avalon, and fifth wheel.
Wakarusa Town Manager Tom Roeder said Wednesday evening that Travel Supreme had not contacted him about the closure and he was unsure what had happened. He expects to talk with company officials in the next few days.
Shipments of RVs during 2007 trailed 2006 totals and in November, the industry turned in the lowest number of shipments since 2003, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. A slowing national economy and a growing credit crunch are blamed for the downturn.
The towable RV market has been particularly hard hit, off 11.3 percent year-to-date through November 2007, the most recent figures available. Fifth-wheel shipments were down 8.6 percent.
Conversely, shipments of motorhomes have rebounded slightly from 2006, up 0.7 percent year to date, but for the month of November fell 26.9 percent compared with November 2006.
Downtown at Wakarusa Hardware, owner Kenny Twa was saddened by the rumors he had heard about Travel Supreme. The small shop supplies the RV maker with some items, including screws, plumbing pipes or brackets for every unit made at the plant. Also, mechanics from the service department often come to the store looking for parts.
"They're a very good customer," Twa said while leaning against a ladder used to reach the top shelves. "They will be missed."
Every RV manufacturer has trouble from time to time, he said, and he is willing to do what he can to keep Travel Supreme going. If the company does not reopen, Twa said his business will not drop to the point where he will have to close but "for any small business like myself, in a little community like this, you feel it."
The bespectacled Twa will feel the loss beyond his pocketbook. He liked having the hardware he sells used in Travel Supreme's RVs.
"I was always quite proud," he said, "that every time I saw one go down the street, something in them came from this store."