Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 13, 2014

Stapp's zoo, conveyor to close

By Boris Ladwig Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — Stapp’s Circle S Ranch, a popular local petting zoo, is closing because because of the financial difficulties of its parent company, Custom Conveyor.

James Stapp, who owns the nonprofit zoo and the business, which installs conveyor systems in factories around the world, said the decision to close has been forced upon him by a customer who has refused to pay him a debt of millions of dollars.

Stapp, 69, has owned the business for 33 years. His frustration, anger and sadness about the situation was clear when he spoke with the Daily News by phone Wednesday afternoon.

“I feel like I’m going through hell,” Stapp said. “I’ve never encountered anything like this.”

Custom Conveyor, about five miles east of Greensburg on State Road 46, used to employ more than 100, but only about 20 employees are left.

Some of them have worked with the company for 30 years, Stapp said.

“They’re very, very good people,” he said.

And for Stapp, the business has deep family roots. Both of his parents have worked there, so have his wife and some of his five sons.

The company has installed conveyor systems as close as Honda’s manufacturing plant in Greensburg and as far as Venezuela and South Africa.

But a large customer who owes Custom Conveyor millions of dollars is refusing to pay, Stapp said, and he cannot continue the business without those millions.

That also means that the petting zoo that is part of the company’s 17-acre complex will have to close. Stapp said that while the zoo’s attendance has increased over the years — about 10,000 people visited last year — it cannot operate without financial assistance from Custom Conveyor.

The zoo began about 15 years ago with some exotic sheep and longhorn cattle. Over the years, Stapp and his wife, Theresa, added llamas, exotic birds, bison, impala, elk, wolves, bears and exotic cats.

The owners have begun finding good homes for the more than 70 animals that remain, including three African lions and six tigers, but parting with them has been emotional, because the Stapps have raised some of them from when they were very young.

“It kills you,” Stapp said. “It’s the same as having a dog or (house) cat that you raised.”

Two of the three bears who recently arrived have been shipped to similar zoos in Florida and Texas. A third will stay for a few more days before being sent to a zoo in southern Indiana.

Stapp said he also feels bad for the patrons, especially those who came year after year.

“It’s just a bad situation,” he said.

When exactly the zoo and the business will close remains unclear, Stapp said, because he is working with an attorney to see if the situation can be resolved.

“We still hope that somebody comes to their senses … but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” he said.

Marc Coplon, executive director of the Greensburg/Decatur County Economic Development Corp., said he was sad to see the business close.

“Any time we lose a company in Greensburg it’s a shame,” he said.

Coplon said he plans to work with WorkOne and other local and regional organizations to try to find the employees new jobs.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com

Stapp's Circle S Ranch is closing, though an exact closing date is unclear. Where: 4858 State Road 46. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Prices: $10 for ages 12 and up, $4 for ages 3 to 12, free for children under 2. More information: stappscirclesranch.org or 663-6709.