70th Anniversary Edition: Cold weather to the rescue for Qik Joe distributor

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(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Sunday Dispatch in January 2014.)

He’s loving every minute of the brutal winter.

John Wesolowski, senior vice president of Milazzo Industries which makes the popular Qik Joe Ice Melt, said the past few mild winters, coupled with the crippling flood of 2011, put a dent in business.

But the recent deep freeze has driven up the need for his products and his operation is in full swing.

“Demand is through the roof from the cold and the snow,” he said.

Wesolowski usually has six employees on staff but is now running at full capacity with 30 employees. “In the past, we’ve laid people off and bring them in as needed. But now they will be here all year.”

He called this stretch of freezing weather “wonderful.”

“We’re one of the last, if not the last, major ice melt supplier still shipping,” Wesolowski said. “The last few years have been pretty lousy; we really haven’t had much of a winter the past few years.”

The company’s headquarters is in the Port Blanchard section of Jenkins Township, alongside the Luzerne & Southern Railway, which delivers ton after ton of the materials used in its products.

The product comes in on train and leaves the facility on pallets in tractor-trailers, so the distribution territory is generally limited to the eastern half of the nation. But it can be bought almost anywhere in the country.

Humble beginnings

The family company got its start when Carmen Milazzo traveled the streets of the Browntown section of Pittston Township in a horse-drawn buggy selling fruits and vegetables. His son, Joe, continued the tradition, but instead of produce, he hauled bagged coal and eventually opened a coal-bagging plant. In 1943, the Milazzo family opened the largest hardware store in Pittston on South Main Street and kept it open until 1970.

Joe died in 1968 and his son, Sam, took the helm. Sam introduced a new product invented in the 1950s by his father, Instant Light Charcoal. And in 1969, Sam unveiled Qik Joe Ice Melt.

Sam Milazzo died in 2004 and his widow, the former Bette Stachokus of Port Griffith, is now president with their son-in-law, Wesolowski, husband of daughter Nadine, running the day-to-day operations.

Two major floods, the Agnes Flood in 1972 and the flooding of 2011, and a major fire in 1984 all but destroyed the business, but each time, through hard work and determination, Milazzo Industries overcame the devastation.

Wesolowski said the flooding of 2011 was particularly harsh.

“We really don’t have any way of preparing for something like that,” he said. “It was right in the beginning of the season and it destroyed all of our machinery, our factory and and our packaged goods.” And he said the biggest snow storm that year happened early in the season when the business was down.

Floodwater wiped out the neighboring Patch section of Jenkins Township and a majority of the nearby homes will be demolished.

The factory was back to being operational just two months after the flooding.

Better get the Qik Joe

Wesolowski said the company offers eight primary ice melt products, ranging from the top-tier Qik Joe Instant Ice Melter, which works up to -25 degrees, to the Quad Melt “Ultra” with calcium magnesium acetate, which works up to 0 degrees. The Safe Pet Ice Melter will not irritate dogs’ paws like rock salt will.

He said Dow Chemical invented Qik Joe as a commercial product, but his family brought it to a retail level. It is now made in Michigan by Oxy Chemical’s Brine Division.

Wesolowski explained how a pellet of Qik Joe can melt ice. When the Qik Joe, a calcium chloride pellet, is spread, it immediately creates a brine that melts the snow. Rock salt, on the other hand, needs water to become active. Additionally, rock salt stops working around 10 degrees, but Qik Joe works until the temperature hits -25 degrees.

Another benefit to Qik Joe is that less is needed. For every 50 pounds of Qik Joe, you would need 150 pounds of rock salt to do the same job, Wesolowski said.

He said in the summer when the business is not making and selling Qik Joe and related products, it is distributing instant charcoal and road dust control materials. But winter will always be its bread and butter.

“It’s been a really busy season and we have no intentions of slowing down,” he said. “If it’s not snowing here, it’s snowing somewhere else.”

For other 70th Anniversary stories, click here.

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