Simon Pearce expansion show Vermont how to make it

Simon Pearce expansion show Vermont how to make it

Marcel, Joyce

Forget what you read in the papers — Vermont is a great place for business, says luxury crystal, glass and pottery magnate Simon Pearce.

Pearce, who is originally from Ireland, has reason to celebrate business in Vermont. His Quechee-based glassworks business is experiencing rapid expansion.

Designer and glassblower Pearce was raised in County Cork, the son and brother of potters and glassblowers. He opened his own workshop in Kilkenny in 1970 and designed and produced glass there for over 10 years.

Then, in response to a dramatic increase in the price of fossil fuels during the mid 1970s, Pearce began searching for a cheaper source of energy.

In 1981, he restored and then moved his operations to a historic 1801 woolens mill in Quechee, called simply The Mill, where he harnessed the power of the Ottauquechee River to run his crystal furnaces.

Today, visitors to the Mill can watch craftsmen blowing by hand the luxuriously beautiful glasses, pitchers, lamp bases, bowls and vases that carry Pearce’s trademark. They can then buy these same products in his retail store and enjoy fine dining in a restaurant overlooking the falls of the Ottauquechee River, as recommended by Gourmet Magazine in 1989 and Vermont Business Magazine in 1995. Pearce also operates a pottery manufacturing facility in Hartland and sells the ceramic wares in his stores.

Why did Pearce chose Vermont?

“I think it’s a wonderful place to live and work,” Pearce said. “I think there’s a very good business climate here. And we’re well-located. Our specific area is in the Upper Valley, where interstates 89 and 91 cross. The main east-west artery, Route 4, is here. We’re two hours from Boston, and we have Dartmouth College, Woodstock and the medical center. We’re four and a half hours from New Yorkby car and 50 minutes by air. I find it a fantastic location.”

Because doing retail business was key to his financial success, many people were skeptical when Pearce first chose Quechee.

“It has proved to be a wonderful retail location,” Pearce said. “We have a very good local population and a good tourist population. It is seasonal, but it is a great season. I left Ireland, where I had the same business, and the season was two months. Here it’s May through October. Then you’re into December, which is OK. So overall, I’m very happy with the season. I think it’s great.”


The company owns seven other retail stores: two in New York, and one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey. It also wholesales to over 200 other accounts, “but our own stores are the key to our success,” Pearce said.

The company employs 230 people and enjoys sales of $12.5 million. In 1993 Simon Pearce opened a second manufacturing and retail facility in the Windsor Industrial Park in Windsor. This year he announced plans to expand the Windsor plant.

“We originally built about 33,000 square feet, and we are adding 12,000 to that this summer.” Pearce said. “That includes adding about 900 square feet of office space. The reason is that we have reached capacity with the existing factory, mainly in terms of warehousing and shipping. And last year, we started being able to engrave on the glass, and that’s going every well, and we need to set up a proper line for doing that. That’s the glass part of the expansion.”

There’s more.

“At the moment, we have a pottery in North Hartland that is 6,000 square feet,” Pearce said. “We have maxed out the capacity of the existing pottery, and it does not lend itself to expansion, and we wanted to add. Right now, the public doesn’t go to the pottery. We’re going to close it and build a new pottery close to the glass factory, which will be about 18,000 square feet. And that will also have a retail store and a viewing area, a mezzanine floor so the public will actually be able to watch the process. That will share the same car park as the glass blowing, so the public will be able to go from one to the other.”

The third part of the expansion is the addition of a new restaurant.

“It is going to be in an old barn we’re going to convert on the property,” Pearce said. “It’s a little further away, on Route 5, but on same piece of property. Then we’ll be putting in a connecting road. The public will come in, drive past the restaurant, and drive down on our own road to the glass-blowing and pottery. The road will have extensive landscaping, including a tree-lined entrance. The restaurant will have 143 seats in about 4,000 square feet.”

Once the expansion is completed, Pearce envisions the creation of another 45 jobs. “In a couple of years, we’ll end up at 90 more jobs related to this expansion,” he said.

The plan is to open two new stores a year in the United States, where Pearce sees plenty of room for expansion.

“Why take on the headaches and expense of overseas until we need to?” he said.

Vermont has been good to him, Pearce said.

“I always find it hard to out together the news you get from economists and the media about the falling economy and what one actually sees happening,” Pearce said. “We have virtually no unemployment in the Upper Valley. We haven’t had any for a while, so it’s not like it’s suddenly changed. The state’s income was down, but all aspects of our business have been up. The in-state part, including the restaurant, retail and manufacturing, have been very strong, and we’re selling luxury goods. It’s all relatively high-end, because that’s how we do things. When you make things by hand, with the amount of labor we have, they get expensive.”

Pearce said he never found Vermont unfriendly to business.

“I think that sometimes some of the things are a little cumbersome, and you have to work your way around it,” Pearce said. “It’s relative. Coming from Europe, it seems much easier here. You just need to go and work in another country and you’ll come back and appreciate this business climate so much. I find the wonderful thing about Vermont, if there is an issue or a problem, you can go to talk to somebody at the state at all the levels, top to bottom, and they are helpful. They want to help you sort out your problems.”

Act 250 in some places lacks common sense, Pearce said.

“We’re starting a little pottery that’s going to employ six or seven people,” Pearce said. “The Act 250 application is almost the same as if we’re going to put up a 20,000-square-foot plant. It doesn’t allow for scale of project. But we have a wonderful state in which to live and work, and to me that’s the important thing. Anyone who wants to start a business here can definitely do it, and with a lot of help from the State of Vermont. One thing they don’t have is much money, but that’s part of living in a rural state. It’s not like living in New Jersey, where they can lure you with money. But the lure here is living in Vermont, and apart from not having a lot of money to entice businesses, the state does a very good job. I couldn’t be happier. You couldn’t move me out of Vermont.”

Joyce Marcel is a freelance writer and arts critic from Dummerston.

Copyright Lake Iroquois Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Vermont Business Magazine Jun 01, 1996

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