Fenton to "Cease Traditional Glass Production"

By: Bruce Layman, Leslie Barrett Email
By: Bruce Layman, Leslie Barrett Email

Update 7/08/2011 4:30 PM

This week's news that Fenton Art Glass is shutting down its traditional glass-making business comes as the company's gift shop is holding its annual tent sale.

It began Friday, just outside the company's Williamstown headquarters.

In spite of the weather, a steady line of customers showed up for a chance to purchase Fenton's much sought-after decorative glass products.

It's the 20TH annual tent sale, and it is scheduled to continue through August 7th, both at the tent and inside at Fenton's gift shop.

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Fenton Art Glass has been a large financial asset to the city of Williamstown for more than a century. Now that the company is shutting down its traditional glassmaking business and the future is unclear, Mayor Jean Ford said it would be almost devastating if the company completely shut down.

She remains hopeful they will continue with the two other product lines being explored.

"We're going to really miss them as far as making the glass and having the tours and the tourism they bring to the city and you know all the wonderful people in our town who have had jobs there. There's been employment for so many people," she said.

Fenton not only provides a part of the city's tax base, the company has helped the community financially as a partner in education with the high school, sports programs, and the swimming pool.

The gift shop remains open and there will continue to be tours of the glass beadmaking and decorating.

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For more than a hundred years, Fenton has been a name synonymous with decorative glass but now the company's traditional glassmaking business is coming to an end.

"It's not only a loss for the family but also for every worker here who has worked so hard to try to make this factory continue on. It's also a loss for the glass industry because we make glass and do techniques to glass that you will not find anywhere else in the world," said Truda Mendenhall a Fenton Art Glass employee and president of the United Steelworkers Local 508T.

Fenton Art Glass President George Fenton said the market for pressed and blown glass has decreased in part to the economy and a change in styles.

He says they can't sustain overhead costs, including the cost of raw materials like gold, which they use for color, and natural gas.

Still the company is exploring the production of glass beads and specialty melting tests for an industrial manufacturing process.

"We have just under a 100 employees at this point and depending upon what happens with the other lines, most of those will be gone," said Fenton.

About 30 people were laid off Wednesday and between 35 and 40 people were called back from the last lay off to decorate and pack the last pieces.

For factory tours, tourists won't be able to see glassmaking anymore. For the next two months, tourists can see employees decorating items and one part that will continue is the chance to see the beadmaking.

"We are the only American made glass bead company and I think that is so important and i'm just hopeful and optimistic that somehow we'll be able to keep it going," said Jena Balair, a Fenton Art Glass employee.

The gift shop in Williamstown and outlet store in Flatwoods remain open. The tent sale outside the gift shop will still begin July 8 and run through August 7.

There are discussions about specially decorated pieces and the final quanities of limited edition pieces being released.

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Williamstown-based Fenton Art Glass Company has announced plans to "wind down production of its collectible and giftware glass products."

The company cites financial challenges since its restructuring in 2007 and recent developments as factors in its decision to shut down its traditional glassmaking business.

“The market for our pressed and blown glassware has diminished,” according to Fenton President George Fenton. “We cannot sustain the overhead costs. Our employees have worked hard and efficiently, so this is a very sad day for us. Shortly, we will begin the process of shutting down our main furnace. Remaining employees will be finishing existing glassware from the company’s inventory that will be available through the Fenton Gift Shop as well as the company’s web site and Fenton dealers across the country.”

In a news release sent to WTAP-TV, Fenton Art Glass says it's exploring the sales of one or more of its product lines.

Fenton Art Glass Company's factory has been a part of Williamstown since 1906.

WTAP-TV will have more on this story as it becomes available.



Fenton Glass articles from the archives:

Dirty Jobs

Fenton Art Glass on The Show Dirty Jobs

Fenton Employees Celebrate Their On-Air Debut

Fenton Owes Nearly $400,000 in Taxes

23 Fenton Art Glass Workers Laid Off

Glass Woes


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