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Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick in the Country Curtain offices in the company's early years in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

As Country Curtains closes, recalling its Stockbridge legacy with Jane Fitzpatrick

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By Thursday, Sep 14, 2017 Life In the Berkshires 19

Stockbridge — We sat together one afternoon over a decade ago. As she talked, it became clear that Jane Fitzpatrick was a woman of exceptional energy and drive.

“We came to Stockbridge in the fifties [1957] so Jack could take a job at a local department store,” she said.

With husband Jack, Jane had two small children, but she did not sit idle. A year earlier, “To supplement the family income and keep busy,” Jane explained, “I started sewing curtains on my dining room table.”

She had impeccable taste and a keen eye for detail. People liked Jane’s curtains, and orders were placed.

“I encouraged local women to come over, sit at my dining room table, and help me sew.”

Jane continued sewing at the dining room table in Stockbridge and orders increased.

“Jack suggested I make a catalogue for mail orders.” Jane smiled, “ ‘Like Sears,’ Jack said.”

The Fitzpatrick family at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Country Curtain headquarters in Lee, Massachusetts.

Jane was a housewife working with a few local girl friends, not Sears, but she agreed, and in a house on Main Street, Stockbridge, a $300,000,000 business was born.

“The Fitz’s timing was impeccable, and they were positioned for success,” lifelong Berkshire resident Robert Jones opines.

Jane’s taste matched the evolving taste of the nation, and quality goods at an affordable price were always in style. Country Curtains was a success. Always curious about the motivation that drives the very successful, sitting in the broad gracious living room of the house on Prospect Hill, I listened carefully to her reminiscences. It sounded as if one motivation for Jane was to be accepted by “Old Stockbridge.”

“I go out of my way to welcome every new neighbor,” she said. “No one welcomed us.”

Nevertheless, Jane used her wealth to save and preserve Stockbridge. Jane helped establish the Norman Rockwell Museum, restore the Berkshire Theater festival, and build Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. She began, however, with the purchase and restoration of the Red Lion Inn.

Look closely at Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting of Stockbridge Main Street: the Red Lion Inn is dark. As Country Curtains closes its doors after sixty years, it is important to understand the relationship between Country Curtains and the character of Stockbridge. Simply put, Country Curtain money preserved Main Street.

A detail from Norman Rockwell’s painting of Main Street in Stockbridge, Mass., with the Red Lion Inn still dark.

Dark and empty, vulnerable to deterioration or razing by a chain fast food joint, the Red Lion sat. Nothing preserves like poverty. The economic hard times in the Berkshires made the huge eighteenth century building unappealing. It was not purchased or razed and then one evening a light was seen on inside.

David Scribner tells this story. “When I was just starting out in newspapering, Pete Miller, editor of the Eagle, would give me advice. I was actually working at the Bennington Banner at the time, one of the papers The Eagle owned. ‘You have to poke around, get out and talk to people, not just sit in the office,’ I remember him counseling. As an example, he recalled how he was driving in his Volkswagen Bug by the dormant Red Lion Inn one day, when he saw a light on inside. He pulled over, went up on the porch and knocked on the door. Two people greeted him and led him inside. Pete said, ‘I thought the place was closed.’ The couple replied, ‘We just bought it.’ And that is how the news broke about the purchase and revival of the inn.”

Thus, the owner and editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Lawrence K. “Pete” Miller, introduced himself to the new owners of the Red Lion Inn, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick.

Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, upon Country Curtains being named retailer of the year.

The Fitzpatricks went from strength to strength. The same taste, drive and attention to every detail that made Country Curtains a success, made the Red Lion a destination point for tourists.

A few years before we sat together talking about Jane’s life, I received an invitation to a luncheon at Blantyre. It was women only and “exceptional women of Stockbridge” were invited. The invitation was so enticing and flattering, everyone accepted. We gathered and waited for Jane to explain. She did. It was a celebration. For the first year since they bought it, the Red Lion Inn made a profit.

When we contemplate the closing of Country Curtains, it is important to understand the relationship between Country Curtains, the Red Lion, and Main Street Stockbridge. Like the anchor store in a mall, the Red Lion Inn is the anchor in Stockbridge. Jane’s wish to preserve was funded by Country Curtains. Together, Jane and the Country Curtains income stream kept Main Street looking like the Norman Rockwell painting for the next sixty years.

The Fitzpatricks owned more than the inn; they owned much of Main, Elm and South Streets. The center of Stockbridge might look quite different today had the Fitzpatricks not continued to buy and preserve most of the buildings “down street.” Jane didn’t shape Stockbridge, but she held it in the palm of her hand and did not allow it to change.

As Country Curtains closes, Nancy Fitzpatrick says “it is heartbreaking” and local folks say it is the end of an era. True, and sadly, it could also have a very real impact on the village of Stockbridge. If the properties purchased with profits from Country Curtains are subsequently sold — what will Stockbridge look like in another sixty years? Will it resemble the Rockwell painting or will image and reality diverge? Will the reality separate from the image as Rockwell values separate from our new evolving values?

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19 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    Very sad Country Curtains is closing. Usually the result of poor management. Hard to believe an established business with quality nich products could fail. Then again, most manufacturing has left the Berkshires anyway. The extreme taxes and government red tape have run everyone out.

    Unfortunately, this suggests the Red Lion Inn may be the next to fold without the financial backing of Country Curtains. Then Blantyre….

    1. Steve says:

      From the Real Estate sales listed on the Edge:

      38 Patterson Rd: Fitzpatrick Holdings LLC of Lenox to Blantyre Hotel Ventures, $4,600,000 on 06/28/2017

      Plus an additional $3 Million for the furnishings and other inclusions.

      Blantyre has already been sold and is no longer a part of Fitzpatrick holdings.

  2. Jack Trowill/Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum says:

    As usual, really nice poignant article by Carole. It’s really important to continually fill-in the natives and “new-borns” on the history of the Berkshires.

  3. Andrew Blechman says:

    Great article. And a great story. Thank you.

  4. David says:

    I enjoyed reading this story for its historical perspective. The questions it raises about the town’s fate and character largely depends upon who/what steps in to fill the void left by CC. Hope the residents have some say and don’t get steamrollered by some corporation(s ).

  5. Pete says:

    Great article. On line competition and cheaper alternatives killed their business. Overseas manufacturers can easily copy their products and sell them cheaper. Look at Wayfair, Home Depot, etc., if you don’t believe this. We all feel for the loyal employees who dedicated their lives to creating a one time great business.

  6. Kathleen Williams says:

    I will so miss visiting this beautiful store with its wonderful homespun displays. How fortunate that Carole had this story on tap to tell its history.

  7. Ann St. Clair says:

    As usual, Carole Owens writes with combined depth and simplicity to tell a resonant story of the Berkshires. Thanks, Carole. If only it did not have such a sad ending.

  8. henricus g.a. bergmans says:

    my name is henricus g.a. bergmans. I thanks to the confidence given to me by Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick I was able to lease from country curtains the management of the Red Lion Inn under a one year contract. This contract was ended due to the fact that country curtains was unable to obtain a year round liquor license which made it difficult to operate the tavern (widow bingham) and diningroom. Jack, Jane and myself agreed that country curtains should continue to operate the Red Lion Inn with me being the Innkeeper.
    I was the Innkeeper through 1977.
    I loved the years I was associate with Country Curtains via The Red Lion Inn and am very sad about the demise of Country Curtains and sad for all those employees (many of whom were friends} I wish Nancy Fitzpatrick the best of luck in the final settlement of the Country Curtains saga.
    Henricus G.A. Bergmans 55 Moonlight River Drive. Eddington Maine. 04428. 207-843-1095

  9. Lisa Saunders says:

    I just learned of the closing of Country curtains.I
    have bought these beautiful curtains for years
    to embellish the older homes I had owned.Never
    disappointed.I had the honor back in 2014 to have
    My golden retriever model for one of the catalogs .
    What wonderful people to work with.He even made
    the cover.So Sorry to see the end of a era.Will miss
    Country curtains!!

  10. Pat Nelson says:

    I had no idea Country Curtains was closing, I have been ill and now feel better and went to the Country Curtain store in Virginia only it had closed. I am truly sorry, the curtains were the best of the best I still have the ones i bought years ago in my living room dinning room and bedrooms. I have the Prince Charles bedspread on our double bed in our bedroom and was hoping to get another as it is starting to show its years of wear and tear much like myself. My husband was a Gunnery Sgt. in the Marine Corps and I would save and save and go out to the store for bedspreads for the kids (*) rooms. We still have them and use them. so the house would look beautiful when he came home from Viet Nam, 2 times, Cuban missel crisis, Puerto Rican uprising and others. Thanks for helping to keep our homes welcoming and lovely. an even today I look about and see all the lovely curtains and spreads and odd pieces of furniture I bought from time to time. I am truly sorry that you are closed but thank you for making our house a home for all of us. Sincerely Pat Nelson

    1. Evelyn Pendall says:

      Puerto Rican are Americans and fought in the Wars, incase there’s any misunderstanding, to anyone else.

  11. wendy carrell says:

    We miss you so badly and what you brought into our lives. Will I ever find quality and beauty of your curtains. And we will miss Lenox Mass also.

  12. Jody Champlin says:

    I miss the seasonal catalogs and trips to Sturbridge where I purchased my Country Curtains. My Mom bought their curtains as well. I am sitting in my living room looking at my Country Curtains knowing that they are the last I will ever have. I heard they were closing, but hoped someone would purchase the business and keep things going. So sad! Wish I could buy their patterns…

  13. Evelyn Pendall says:

    Very nice Family and their customer service was excellent & generous! It’s sad not seeing the Country Curtain in the mail box and reading their updated family stories. I own their wide ruffled precilla curtains and matching shades with the extra extra long tie back with the huge bows. Will have a memory of these Historic family who made a difference in their community.

  14. Helen Sibley says:

    I am so sad to hear that Country Curtains closed. My mom always received the catalog, and bought many lovely curtains and bedspreads for our colonial style home. I always looked forward to the letter that Nancy would write on the first page of the catalog. After I was married, I started buying curtains for my own home and continued to enjoy those letters from Nancy!
    I feel like I will never find such great quality curtains again-good thing mine still look so good after all these years.

    1. Helen Sibley says:

      Oooops….I meant Jane Fitzpatrick~not Nancy!

  15. L King says:

    Country Curtains had lovely and quality products. I saw online today for those interested that some of the more popular styles are going to be carried by a store in Vermont. I did not look close but think you could find it easily enough. I really enjoyed Country Curtain’s products. Fabric prices have gone up – it’s no longer economical buying material and sewing clothing plus the fabric is “no good” reports someone very close to me. I would therefore think that the material in the curtains that I have purchased must have been fairly costly. I do not see how this smaller business could continually compete with importers and large-scale manufacturers selling to online and merchandisers without substantially reducing quality. The company was not built on this reputation. I enjoyed the beautiful and quality curtains. I am truly sorry to see Country Curtains and their retail locations have closed their doors! (While I’m not a businesswoman, please buy USA/small business when you can. Country Curtain workers lost jobs… THANKS!!!)

  16. Maria Hendershot says:

    I worked at Country Courtains for twenty one years in Far Hills/Chester NJ. It was a wonderful experience. The Fitzpatrick’s considered their employees part of their family. They provided health insurance, support, and college scholarships. They shared their vacation homes in Florida and Vermont. They recognized employees at a dinner at the Red Lion Inn. And rewarded twenty year employees with a solid gold coin.
    Their customers where also held in high esteem. Customer service, a high priority.
    It was a blessing that I shared two decades of my life with Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick. They don’t make them like that anymore.

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