Steuben Calls It Quits Forever
October 31, 2011
The Shophound was surprised to see the windows of the Steuben store on Madison Avenue plastered with Final Sale signs, and when we walked into the store, there was the unmistakably mournful air of a once venerable and still well-admired company drawing its last breaths. A crestfallen salesperson told us that Steuben is not just closing the store, but shutting down its 108-year-old crystal and glass production entirely. Within a few weeks, it will be gone from the market completely, ending an era of fine crystal and art glass production in the United States. The Madison Avenue shop is its only freestanding store.
Owned for most of its existence by commercial glass giant Corning Inc., Steuben was nurtured to produce fine glass and crystal that could compete with legendary overseas brands like Baccarat and Waterford. Whether or not it was a big moneymaker for Corning, its quality and prestige were points of pride for the company which made enough money from Pyrex and Corningware to support an artisanal division that represented the finest America could offer. For generations, no upscale-minded home or bridal registry would be complete without at least one or two pieces of Steuben glass even if it was just an ashtray or paperweight. The name became a mainstay in luxury stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus, often presented in its own, pristine in-store boutiques which was uncommon for a crystal and glassware brand. The company's failure to keep up with changing tastes led it to fall out of favor by the time the 21st century began, and new corporate pressure to operate more profitably led to lower quality products that didn't help matters. In 2008, the brand was sold to retail conglomerate Schottenstein Stores Inc., who quietly chose to shut it down about six weeks ago. Though Corning has since reacquired the trademarks, and may rehire a few of the laid-off workers, it is not expected that it will start producing glassware under the name again.
The upside for collectors is that today's closeouts will become coveted collectors items before too long, especially if they came from Steuben's upstate New York factories. What's disappointing, though, is that at a time when luxury markets are again surging, and distinguished American clothing brands like Woolrich, L.L.Bean and Pendleton are being revamped and rediscovered by a younger generation, nobody can figure out how to preserve an iconic name like Steuben.
Steuben 667 Madison Avenue (at 61st Street)