Basketville to close Putney store

Putney Mountain Winery will expand into space vacated by longtime landmark

PUTNEY — A Putney landmark is about to vanish from the retail scene, but another longtime Putney business will be expanding into the soon-to-be-vacated space.

This week, Basketville announced plans to close its Putney retail store before the new year.

According to a news release, the company says it has evolved into a wholesale business serving some of America's largest retailers, and the Putney retail store no longer fits within the focus of the company's main business.

Basketville's headquarters, employing about 25 people, will remain in the Main Street building. Another 25 people are employed at the company's office in Qingdao, China.

According to the news release, about five jobs will be lost as a result of the store closing.

But the soon-to-be vacated Basketville store won't be empty for long.

Putney Mountain Winery, which had already been using part of the store for a tasting room and production space, says it will expand its operation within the space to include a new distillery and event space.

The balance of the main floor will be made available for lease.

Basketville has had a long history in southern Vermont.

Third generation

Current Basketville CEO Greg Wilson is the third generation of his family to pursue the basket business. His father, Frank G. Wilson, learned the basket business from his father, Cassius Wilson, the proprietor of Sidney Gage & Company of North Westminster.

Sidney Gage and Company was founded in 1842 and claimed to be “the Largest Manufacturers of Hand-Made Baskets in the United States.” Sturdy oak and ash baskets were made mainly for laundry, market, agricultural, and industrial use.

The West River Basket Corporation was organized in Williamsville in the late 19th century and moved to Putney after being destroyed by fire in 1924. A limited variety of baskets for everyday use were manufactured strictly for wholesale distribution.

Frank Wilson bought the West River Basket Company in 1941 with “no money down and payments of $100 a month,” and later merged with the Sidney Gage & Company to form Basketville.

During the 1950s, Mr. Wilson began to pique the curiosity of passers-by on Route 5 by hanging an array of baskets on a clothesline outside his Putney workshop. More and more people stopped. Eventually, shoppers became so frequent they disrupted production.

The first Basketville retail store opened circa 1956, directly across the street from the Putney factory. Eventually, retailing would become the main focus of the company, with up to 12 Basketville outlets on the East Coast, from Maine to Florida.

Retailers nationwide

The Putney factory supplied oak and ash baskets to the major retailers of the era including Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, and Sears, as well as hundreds of independent retailers nationwide.

Picnic baskets, and baskets for laundry, gardening, and table tops were all being produced in Putney. In addition to baskets, pine buckets were made and fashioned into ashtrays (smokers), decorated to hold cookies or ice, or simply used for decorative storage.

Additional factories were established in Brattleboro, Northborough, Mass., and Milo, Maine, to produce baskets, buckets, and a large variety of woodenware.

Importing baskets from around the world was a natural result of Frank Wilson's love of travel and passion for all things handmade. Suppliers were developed in Hong Kong, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Poland.

Wilson was in Hong Kong when President Nixon lifted the trade embargo against China in the early 1970s, and was among the first wave of Americans to do business with China.

The rising costs of manufacturing led to the decline of basket making in the U.S. In response, Basketville established a joint venture in China where New England-style baskets were successfully manufactured until 2007.

The Basketville factories in the U.S. were eventually scaled back in response to market demands. The Putney factory where Basketville was founded was closed in 1996.

Changes in the retail landscape and consumer buying patterns led to the closing of the Basketville retail stores in 2006 and 2007, except for the flagship Putney store. The near extinction of “mom and pop” retailers and the rise of “big box” retail demanded a new strategy.

To remain relevant in the global marketplace, Basketville refocused its mission in 2004 and set out to bring its expertise in baskets to America's largest retailers.

Today, Basketville specializes in designing and sourcing customized decorative storage and home organization products for the mass market.

The Putney store plans a store-closing sale that begins Oct. 31 and is expected to continue until all inventory is sold.

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