Our Opinion: Painful end to era at Country Curtains

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It began more than 60 years ago with a single package of textile, wrapped for shipping in brown paper on the dining room table of the Fitzpatrick family's home. Now Country Curtains, the first mail order curtain company established in the United States, will likely shutter its doors by year's end (Eagle, September 13).

Founded by the late John and Jane Fitzpatrick in 1956, the once-burgeoning Berkshire-based business has been unable to turn around its faltering operations following a reboot last year that included bringing in a new CEO. Efforts to find a strategic buyer have also proven unsuccessful. The company's board of directors announced Tuesday its recommendation for an orderly liquidation of Country Curtains and its related operations, contingent on a vote of the company's shareholders, scheduled for October 4. The shareholders could vote against the recommendation, but the comments of CEO Celia Clancy and Board Chairwoman Nancy Fitzpatrick demonstrate their belief that this difficult decision should and must happen.

The closing of Country Curtains would be a big blow to the Berkshires. Half of its staff of 360 employees work in its Berkshire facilities, which include the110,000-square-foot distribution center in Lee and a production facility in Housatonic. Country Curtains has 22 retail outlets in 11 states, and also operates a second production facility in West Hartford, Connecticut. Though more than 3,000 items were being shipped daily from Lee as of April 2016, this hasn't been enough to weather the whiplash changes in retail that have left many independent, brick-and-mortar outlets struggling to find their bearings. Death by Amazon? Perhaps. Country Curtains reported $5 million in losses in 2016, coming off $3 million the previous year.

"It's just such a whole new world in business with the whole digital universe," Ms. Fitzpatrick, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick's daughter, told The Eagle last year. "We have had to play with things like promotion offerings, sending out emails, offering discounts that have been entirely contrary to our corporate culture."

Culture, indeed, is what the Fitzpatrick name has become synonymous with. Arguably no family has done more to support the Berkshires' non-profit art, education and social institutions than the Fitzpatricks, and it was Country Curtains' early and vigorous success that helped bankroll so many of these generous efforts.

As we await the shareholders' vote, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board has announced it stands ready to assist Country Curtains employees, if and when the need arises.

It's always a sad day when we see a Berkshire business fail, and there have been too many in recent years. It's sadder still when its a company as storied as Country Curtains, which has done more than its share over the years to ensure our community is cut from a different cloth.






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