Fenton Glass battling for survival
After almost a decade of financial ups and downs that have severely altered the face of Fenton Art Glass, the outlook of the almost 109-year-old Williamstown company is fairly grim, with the possibility it could soon be out of business entirely.
“I think the handwriting is on the wall, but I don’t want to read it,” Fenton Gift Shop President Randy Fenton said.
After shutdown scares in 2007 and again in 2011, leaders within the plant and the Fenton Gift Shop are going into 2014 with little estimation of how long production of products will last after a failed attempt at “relaunching” the company within the past year.
Randy Fenton said the gift shop, which operates separately from the Fenton Art Glass plant, said no new items are coming in.
“We don’t have any source of production, so I’m not sure what the future holds,” he said. “If we don’t find some ability to produce our Fenton glass for us, we will continue to wind down what we have in stock.”
Randy said after several instances of the plant staying open after a feared close, he avoids any use of the word “definitely,” but says it is “very possible” that the plant could go out of business sometime in the near future.
The gift shop, which is now running on limited hours, is in the process of selling out what inventory is left. Fenton said most items are on sale for 70 percent off, not including still in-line jewelry items and some limited-edition pieces that are currently going for 20 percent off.
He noted that by now, the inventory is so low that the shop no longer has what he considers a good selection.
George Fenton, the president of Fenton Art Glass, explained that right now the plant is just trying to maximize efforts in areas that are working and focus on the present.
“We continue to produce and sell glass jewelry and we’ve been expanding the lines that have been doing well in the category,” he said.
The company has been focusing on earrings and larger jewelry pieces in an attempt to reach a more modern consumer. The plant ceased production of its traditional glass pieces in 2011.
In May 2013, USGlass, who had purchased assets from Fenton in 2012, attempted to re-launch Fenton’s production with a Kickstarter project set with a $50,000 goal that if raised, would pay to build a digital catalog of Fenton’s glass molds. Once the May 20 deadline came, pledges totaled only $8,000. A Kickstarter project only charges pledges if the monetary goal is met, so the company received nothing from the attempt.
“There was no back-up plan,” George Fenton said. He said the plant is still looking for options for the future, but for now, he did not want to make any predictions.
“We continue to be in touch and in contact (with the plant), but as of this time, nothing has changed for quite some time,” Randy Fenton said.
Three auctions will be held at the Dexter City Action Gallery throughout the spring and summer this year for anywhere from 1,500 to 1,600 items from the Fenton Museum, which is owned by the Gift Shop but holds items from the plant as well.
The effects of Fenton’s decline are not lost on the small city of Williamstown.
Jim Stage, a co-partner of Williamstown Antique Mall, said he’s already noticed the decline in tourist traffic that normally helps liven the town of approximately 3,000 people after Fenton halted traditional production.
“Everyone is really worried about what will happen to the molds, and collectors are worried that it will get into someone else’s hands, or that it will go overseas,” Stage said.
The antique mall has worked with the Fenton family for years, and currently holds Fenton pieces as old as the plant itself as well as some current products.
“We just don’t know what’s going to happen, if they do finally close,” Stage said, adding that the company’s decline has been a big blow for Williamstown as well as to his business.
The antique mall has Fenton dealers from 11 different states nationwide that sell in Williamstown because of the tourist traffic, and their disappointment, Stage said, is clear.