Country Curtains, a Berkshires institution, to end operations after 61 years

More Info
By Tuesday, Sep 12 News  26 Comments
David Scribner
Country Curtains signature outlet at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, owned by the Fitzpatrick family since 1968. Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick originally intended the dining room of the inn to be used for assembling the products of their thriving mail order business.

Stockbridge — An iconic Berkshires business will likely close by the end of the year after the board of directors of Country Curtains voted to recommend the 61-year-old company’s “orderly liquidation.”

In announcing the decision today, board chairperson Nancy Fitzpatrick said in a statement that it was “heartbreaking to share the news that our Board of Directors has reluctantly voted to recommend to the company’s shareholders that we liquidate our assets and close our doors.”

Fitzpatrick emphasized that the decision to dissolve the company “was enormously difficult for all involved” and that the board “explored every possible alternative before coming to this sad conclusion.”

“We all love Country Curtains….and I can say, unquestionably, that we have the best and most dedicated employees in the business,” Fitzpatrick said. “But the truth is Country Curtains is simply no longer able to operate in a way that can be financially sustainable.”

A news release sent out by the company painted a grim picture. The board embarked on a multi-year effort to improve operations or find a strategic buyer, but to no avail. Consequently, the board has recommended the selling off of Country Curtains’ assets and related operations.

Headquarters of Country Curtains in Lee, Massachusetts, off Route 102. Photo: David Scribner

The recommendation is subject to a vote of all shareholders, which will be held at a meeting on Oct. 4, 2017, according to Country Curtains Marketing Director Shane Wirta. He told The Edge the company has 360 employees worldwide, 175 of whom are in Berkshire County. The corporate headquarters is in Lee and the company has 19 retail stores, including the one at the Red Lion Inn, in 12 states.

Wirta said the company began a turnaround effort more than two years ago. New leadership was brought in, products were updated and market changes were made. Still, “significant losses continued,” Wirta said. Those losses exceeded $3 million in 2015, $5 million in 2016, and similar losses in 2017 through August.

“Market forces increasingly favor big box stores and large online retailers who can offer less expensive product, free or low-cost shipping and a broader array of home goods for one-stop shopping,” Wirta said.

The board even hired an investment bank experienced in catalog and direct retailing to identify a potential buyer for the company. The bank cast a wide net, but Wirta said the effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

In recommending an orderly dissolution, Country Curtains will be able to preserve value for all of its shareholders. This is an especially important consideration because many of its current and former workers participate in an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and therefore have a direct financial stake in the company’s stock value.

A Country Curtain truck at the loading dock of the company’s facility in Housatonic, Mass. Photo: David Scribner

“Throughout this process, our employees were always front and center for the board and the family,” Fitzpatrick said in a letter to employees and other friends of the company.

“Most of you are owners through the ESOP. Every losing financial year has meant lost value for you. Taking this step is the only way we can be certain to honor our current obligations to you, our customers, vendors and others, as well as returning some equity to you as ESOP participant shareholders.”

If the board’s recommendation is approved by shareholders, Wirta said, Country Curtains will start a liquidation sale in early October, with company operations expected to end by Dec. 31. Most employees will maintain a role in the company for at least 60 days after the shareholder vote. Eligible employees will be offered severance packages and other transition support.

Country Curtains was founded in 1956 by Nancy Fitzpatrick’s parents, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, in their dining room in Whitman, Mass., just outside Brockton. According to a history on the company’s website, the couple had been looking in stores for unbleached, ruffled muslin curtains like the ones they had grown up with in Vermont.

Unbleached muslin curtains offered for sale on the Country Curtain online catalogue.

“Not able to find them but convinced that they weren’t the only ones who would want this classic New England style for their traditional homes, they decided to have them made and sell them through the mail. Jane made the charming sketch for the first ad that Jack wrote. They arranged for fabrics and sewers. They placed the ad in The Boston Herald. Then they held their breath and waited.”

The company continued to operate out of the Fitzpatrick’s living room until 1969 when they bought the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. The Red Lion had fallen on hard times and was slated to be demolished and replaced by a gas station.

In 2013, the Fitzpatricks also formed the Main Street Hospitality Group, a privately held hotel management company. In addition to the Red Lion, Main Street manages The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA, in North Adams, Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield and the new 45-room, Hotel on North in Pittsfield.

Jonathan Butler is president and chief executive of 1Berkshire, an umbrella organization created in 2010 to coordinate the region’s economic and cultural agencies. He termed the loss of Country Curtains “very disappointing.”

“It’s frustrating from a business perspective. Here we have another-high profile company that has struggled with big box stores,” Butler said in an interview. “We’ve seen major retailers close everywhere because of big-box and online retailers. And also lots of smaller businesses like Country Curtains that struggle to compete with those price points.”

Butler said the big question is what the economic impact of the closure will be. Over the next few weeks his organization will be working on a strategy to deal with the displaced workers. However, Butler also emphasized that the Fitzpatricks deserved “thanks for being a huge part of the Berkshires economy.”

Country Curtains at Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. Photo: David Scribner

“All their businesses are very employee-centered and very local,” Butler said. “They’re economically focused and very emphatic in importing dollars into the Berkshires and keeping them here.”

“Over the past 60 years, we have been blessed with the most dedicated employees, and this in no way reflects all of the hard work that they have brought every day to Country Curtains,” added Celia Clancy, CEO of Country Curtains. “As we continue this process, we will do everything in our power to support all of our employees.”

“This is terrible, tragic news for you and our community. It really is the end of an era,” Nancy Fitzpatrick said in her letter to the workers. “But I know for a fact that you are wonderful employees, and any other Berkshire business will be lucky to hire you. We will do all we can to help make those connections for you.”


Return Home

26 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Robbin Ezinga says:

    hey. thought you should know all your http links are mistakenly coded as mailto. NBD but thought you might want to fix it.

  2. Terry Cowgill says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. They are fixed now. Will have to troubleshoot and see how that happened.

  3. John Grogan says:

    I’m not sure that placing the blame for this on “big box stores and lower price points” is a good analysis. It is a convenient and current boogey man, but ultimately not the primary factor in this case. Think of Rolex, Cartier, Rolls Royce, etc. then consider Cadillac, Jaguar…even IBM. The fact is, curtains are a specialty product to begin with and Country Curtains has always been a premium brand. It is almost always a mistake for brands like that to chase “mass market” with broader distribution and exponentially growing sales. I would love to know how much effort CC has made to push into, and push product through the Interior Designer channel rather than more retail distribution, and how much of the overhead those 19 stores consume. Focusing on creating the highest, premium quality window treatments, for those who want and can afford them, is a much clearer path back to profitability, I would think, than trying to compete on low price points and mass distribution. Closing the company, rather than a deep thoughtful reorganization, seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    1. Jackie says:

      You are so right!!! Country Curtains has always been my go to curtain source.

      1. Kathleen Lingenfelder says:

        Hi Jackie,
        I agree with you. I exclusively purchase bed spreads, duvet covers, pillows, curtains, dust ruffles, and decor from Country Curtains. I love the quality and style. It saddens me to think Country Curtains will exist. Is thete anything we, loyal customers can do to help avoid closing?

  4. Laura says:

    I’m sure Clancy and the rest of the bigwigs there will be getting a hefty severance package as all the rest of the workers struggle to make ends meet until they find another job.

  5. Nancy W. says:

    Very very sad! I love Country Curtains! I knew what ever I ordered was going to be the best and the most beautiful. I loved that they were selling bedding and other items. That way you could really decorate your whole house to match and blend. I would have loved to see more things like bath towels,bath rugs etc. to match a bedroom if you wanted. Over the past couple of years I have purchased so many different items beside my curtains. This year I even bought in-door out-door carpet for our deck. So beautiful.The blankets and sheets I have bought are the best. I will miss Country Curtains. My prays and best wishes for all the workers,hope they all make out very very well. Thank you Country Curtains for so much you have done for the Berkshire.

  6. Shawn G. says:

    Bring in Marcus Lemonis, THE PROFIT!

  7. Liana says:

    Bummer. Most of my curtains come from Country Curtains. Great quality and just the right look for our older homes in the area. So sad to lose this local institution.

  8. Nicole W says:

    I think it’s a shame that the former ceo pissed away Millions and Millions of dollars and led the company to this point… and where was Nancy Fitzpatrick when this was all happening? Ignoring her parents’ legacy.

    They cost 360 people their jobs!

    1. Nicole W says:

      Thank you again for editing my comment. So much for freedom of speech. Is this paper owned by the Fitzpatrick holdings? Please don’t sensor me!

      (I think it’s a shame that the former ceo pissed away Millions and Millions of dollars and led the company to this point… and where was Nancy Fitzpatrick when this was all happening? Ignoring her parents legacy and waddling cross country like a hippy!)

      Nothing in this statement isn’t true! Phil blew through over $100 million in company founds, and no one stopped him until it was too late. Nancy is a hippy that has never given the slightest about her parents company. Her sister Ann was the only one with brains, and the smarts to keep it going.

      1. A says:

        Phil and Shane drove the company into the ground. Seems like they were told on several occasions, by highly intelligent co-workers, that they were going down the wrong path. Then long-time employees suddenly went out on leave, yet never came back. What does that tell you?? They were pushed out. Now all of these poor employees have to suffer because of 2 arrogant people who couldn’t handle a company. Sleep well while your employees starve.

      2. DB says:

        A hippy ? Really? How many businesses did you start and raise up? Is that really necessary? Name calling? Have you tried to accomplish half of any of this?..then be criticized for your lifes’ work and called names when your done? A hippie?what is up with that? It is easy to sit back and tell others how to do it and what they are wrong about. But, doing does it.
        Maybe she’s just tired of the fight. Maybe she has something else to do. No one guarantees you a great job for life. If you want to control ceo spending, benefits and such, you should make a successful company first, build it up and then….. keep it going forever regardless of all the changes to demographics, regulations, costs of operations, etc.
        It took one person to start this company, but it took a boatload to end it.
        I would say that all in all it was still a success while it lasted. And i bet hippie was never used to describe Mts. Fitzpatrick before… i hope you gave her a good chuckle. If she was a hippie, the curtains would have been crocheted in her van, not sewn at her kitchen table 😉

    2. DB says:

      They gave 360 people a good job first though, for a long time

      1. CM says:

        DB, It looks like you’re confusing Nancy Fitzpatrick (the daughter) with her mother Jane. Jane is the one who started the business by sewing curtains at her kitchen table. Nancy didn’t start any of these businesses, she simply “inherited” them from her parents. So you’re wrong in saying that that she started these businesses and built them up. Nicole W is referring to Nancy’s walking trip across the U.S., where she took a substantial time away from these businesses that you claim she is “running”. So yes, I would say that Nicole W is correct in labelling Nancy a hippie and saying that she ignored her parents’ legacy…this was not HER “life’s work”, it was that of her parents. She had all of this handed to her.

        And no one would have referred to Jane Fitzpatrick as a hippie, she was actually a very classy woman…..

      2. Nicole W says:

        Thank you CM.
        DB, I was talking about Nancy, and not Jane. Jane was an amazing woman. Her daughter had the ability to put a stop to all of this a long time ago, and ensure the company was headed in the right direction. She choose not to, she ignored the legacy her parents left her. I don’t think however that she has worked for anything in her entire life. She was handed this company, and the money that came with it.

        The former CEO never worked to build up the Country Curtains name. He set put from day one to dismantle it and build a company in his image. He only had to wait for Jane to pass. In the last 3 years that he was employed with the company, he cannibalized everything that she had built to try to create “his brand”, all in the name of supposedly moving into the future and competing with big box stores. Instead of spending the time and the money updating this companies most basic systems and trying to bring us into the next century. I wonder how many millions they had to pay to push him out? I hope he’s sitting comfortably in his nice home in Boston, not worrying about how he is going to feed his kids come January.

        Sadly, the vote to close the company now would not put money in the pockets of the people who have worked very hard to keep it to the standard that was set by Jane and Jack. It would line the pockets of the preferred stock holders. I do definitely think that they should continue trying to sell the company, hopefully to someone who will take it back in a positive direction, and not try to compete with Amazon and Wayfair. It is a specialty company, and should be treated as such. You can’t find quality like this anywhere else in a ready-made product. Regardless as to wether the vote passes or not, there are still stores that will close, and there will still be negative impact on their families. I hope they do more than proposed to take care of them.

        I have no respect for Nancy. When the announcement was made that they were selling the company, she didn’t show up to tell everyone herself. She disappeared to Ireland with the family. If she had an ounce of respect for the people who have worked to the bone to keep her living comfortably, she could have at least done that.

        Furthermore, the decision to close at Christmas was poor timing for the Fitzpatricks.

        It is ten times harder to find employment after the holidays! Stores prepare for their slow seasons, companies cut back, and factories take their breaks.
        Merry Christmas! 360 families that were probably just barely making it on low salaries/incomes to begin with can’t afford Christmas now.

  9. Laura says:

    You’re right “A”…..I work for a family business , and I see everyday where the family takes advantage of the company and nothing
    trickles down to the employee who work hard to keep the business going. Although the business has been open for about 23 years I don’t see it lasting too much longer.

  10. CM says:

    DB, It looks like you’re confusing Nancy Fitzpatrick (the daughter) with her mother Jane. Jane is the one who started the business by sewing curtains at her kitchen table. Nancy didn’t start any of these businesses, she simply “inherited” them from her parents. So you’re wrong in saying that that she started these businesses and built them up. Nicole W is referring to Nancy’s walking trip across the U.S., where she took a substantial time away from these businesses that you claim she is “running”. So yes, I would say that Nicole W is correct in labelling Nancy a hippie and saying that she ignored her parents’ legacy…this was not HER “life’s work”, it was that of her parents. She had all of this handed to her.

    And no one would have referred to Jane Fitzpatrick as a hippie, she was actually a very classy woman…..

  11. KS says:

    The employees should vote NO to the sale in the October 4 meeting and have the company more strongly pursue a buyer.

    1. Long live says:

      Employees only Owen 40% of the shares while the Fitzpatrick family owns 60% meaning that even if the employees all vote no and the fitzpratricks vote yes it will side with the Fitzpatricks.

  12. Nancy A. Needham says:

    Every curtain and bedspread in two of our homes were muslin ball fringe.

    I feel so sorry as I started buying and following the Country Curtains family in 1974.

    We spent our 25th anniversary at the Inn and have been thinking about spending our 50th there this year.

    For all that it is, has been and hopefully ever be,

  13. Paula Vogel says:

    NO, I have not read every one of the comments. My thoughts: #1 these products are NOT overly priced. Check the price of the products that are used: #2 Check the labor, benefits including the insurance for employee and family ( do you want to go without health insurance?) : #3 Have you had drapes, bedspreads, window shades, etc. custom made by a decorator? Now that is expensive.: #4 Do you want to make them yourself on a sewing machine at home. Until my children were in school, I made all of my own for my own home. YES, it was very nice but a lot of work. Those are my thoughts…..Paula

  14. Annemarie Begley Gibson says:

    It is very sad that Country Curtains is closing. In my opinion the cost for the great quality simple in design insu!ated curtain was reasonable. It did not look cheap and was classic in design. I have them throughout my 4 bedroom home. I don’t accept that they were outsourced. There is a market for curtains,however styles have changed.i noticed they were trying to offer more contemporary curtains but most of their product line was still country. Why are there mean comments blaming Nancy. I am sure this was a very difficult decision.
    Anne

  15. Maureen Feely says:

    I have been buying from CC since its inception and am a Midwesterner. This is only my perception – too many catalogs; too many patterns/items that got away from their base; too many retail stores, or targeted too densely. I don’t believe that big box stores challenged them as your target customer is not the same. We want quality, expertise and customer service we can rely on. That we got with CC. You don’t with big box or online outlets.
    I am truly sorry to hear this news. However, family businesses seem to fail when 2nd, 3rd generations rest on the laurels of their parents who worked so hard to make it successful.

  16. Hamilton McDermott says:

    It’s sad to see the end of a company like Country Curtain. I did engineering consulting work for Housatonic Curtain some years ago and was impressed by the dedication and skill of the people I dealt with. I wish them well.

  17. Nancy R. says:

    So very sad that CC is closing. However, their prices were high. Shipping added insult to injury. Company would have been smart to see how Lands End and other companies can provide zero shipping. Best wishes to all who are affected. I especially liked buying the items that were made in the USA.

Reply to Nancy A. Needham Cancel reply

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.