Demolition of the T.S. Simms & Co. Limited building in west Saint John started on Wednesday.

Some area residents braved the snow to watch as the historic paint brush factory was slowly torn down.

Helen Stein, who worked there for 38 years, starting in 1962, was among them.

"The company was good to us. They thought about the people, you know what I mean," Stein told CBC News.

"For the longest time we were the only place where we got paid in cash. The Brinks would come around every Friday and you'd have to sign a card," she said.

The landmark structure was built in 1912.

New Brunswick Museum curator Gary Hughes salvaged the building blueprints, old posters and display racks that used to hold brushes and brooms.

"It made you feel sad that you were doing this. But at the same time there is a need to save what was a signature industry in this town," he said.

In 1969, Simms employed 500 Saint John workers. They helped invent new machines and other technology.

But in the 21st century, the plant became dated.

"We had to make a change," said Tom Simms, the fourth generation to run the family business.

T.S. Simms had announced last summer it would be closing the local manufacturing arm of the company. The last production run in Saint John was on Nov. 29 before production was moved to Missisauga, Ont., he said.

"It was a move that a lot of us resisted for some time. But we ultimately saw that we had little choice if we wanted to grow and remain competitive."

The corporate office, however, remains in Saint John, as it has since 1872, he said.

J.D. Irving Ltd. owns the property and needed the space, company spokesperson Mary Keith had said.

Asked on Wednesday about the company's plans for the site, Keith said: "At this time there are no plans to announce regarding the Simms Building footprint."

The property, which is zoned industrial, will become part of the adjacent forest products manufacturing site, where tissue and pulp are produced, Keith said in an email.

Demolition will continue into the weekend when removal of the water tower will reduce westbound traffic on Bridge Road to one lane between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday, she Keith. The two eastbound lanes will remain open.

The tear-down is expected to take 10 weeks to complete, she said.