Fenton going out of business after 102 years

WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. – More than a century of glass production is drawing to a close with the announcement that Fenton Art Glass Co. is going out of business. Company president George Fenton blamed foreign competition and rising natural-gas prices.

Fenton announced Aug. 9 that the 102-year-old company will immediately lay off 25 of its 150 employees and cease taking orders at the end of the month. Glassmaking operations will end in September and the company expects to close by the end of October.

“Certainly competition plays a role … the cost of natural gas,” said Fenton, whose grandfather started the plant in 1905. Nine family members still work for the company. “I believe the discretionary income for the middle class, where our major market is, is part of the trend.”

The company has been trying to restructure the business and develop plans to move forward, but it finally exhausted its options, Fenton said.

In a 2006 interview, Scott Fenton, vice president of sales, talked about the challenges facing the company.

“We are always looking ahead, but for the past four years we’ve been in react mode,” said Scott. “We’ve been reacting to economic issues that have directly affected the gift and collectible industry. We sold to twice as many storefronts a few years ago, and our primary focus right now is how to get the market shifted back there.

“Last year we looked at the floral market and jewelers. The mom-and-pop antique and gifts shops — although still out there and we are doing well with many of them — there just aren’t as many as before.”

Scott grew up on the manufacturing side of the business. His father, Thomas K. Fenton, retired in 2006 from his post as vice president of manufacturing. Scott’s grandfather was Frank M. Fenton, past company president and chairman of the board. Scott’s great-grandfather was Frank L. Fenton, co-founder of the firm when he was in his mid-20s.

George Fenton, Scott’s uncle, said a separate gift shop, which is owned by another company, will remain open. Tentative plans call for creating a glassmaking exhibit.