The Peterboro Basket Company, the maker of these baskets, is among the nation’s oldest manufacturers and a new victim of this scourge. After 168 years in business, the company, which made baskets for L.L. Bean, Martha Stewart and Harry & David and in the 1990s sold 300,000 baskets a year on QVC, recently ended production and the gift shop will close within the next week, according to its owner, Wayne Dodds.
The decision weighed heavily on Mr. Dodds, who has run the company since his father bought it on a whim in 1983. “It breaks my heart,” he said. A voluble man who yearns to retire by the sea, he could be found during the company’s final days at his shop bench or in the stock-dwindled gift shop, his golden retriever sleeping nearby.
When Mr. Dodds announced the shutdown on May 13, he was avalanched with orders for baskets. What hasn’t appeared, for all the interest in heritage brands and American-made goods, is an offer to buy the company. There have been some tire kickers, but due diligence reveals a tangle of issues: a severe labor shortage, the retirement of two experienced supervisors and a century-old boiler that needs a $90,000 upgrade.
None of these things are beyond fixing by a flush investor. But one thing is: the disappearance of ash trees. The emerald ash borer, the insect pillaging these trees, has reduced the availability of the wood to make the baskets. “If you wanted to buy a cookie company and you couldn’t get dough,” Mr. Dodds said, laughing, “how are you going to make cookies?”
Ash is the raw material of Yankee basketry. Strong and supple, it is easily shaped, has consistent grain and rarely splits. There are no workable alternatives. “You could use red oak, but tacks and nails and water stain it black,” Mr. Dodd explained. “You could use yellow birch, but it’s not as strong, and it’s splintery and difficult to work because you can’t read the grain.”