John D. Bassett III, the third-generation owner of Bassett Furniture Co. in rural, southwestern Bassett, Va., is one of the few remaining furniture makers in an area that has seen scores of furniture factories close over the last two decades.
According to a July 14 NPR report, the American furniture industry, particularly throughout the “furniture belt” throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, has dwindled due to growing competition from countries like China, where cheap labor is readily available.
Bassett’s story has been one of tenacious perseverance to keep his company, which has been in operation since 1902, competitive — using methods like legal maneuvers, factory re-organizations and plain old hard work to stay afloat, according to NPR.
The decline of Americans’ involvement in manufacturing industries such as furniture making may be one of the reasons why the U.S. economy has declined since the 1990s, as well.
“We haven’t been on a huge [economic] growth spurt since the furniture factories started closing down [in the ’90s],” Beth Macy, author of Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town, said. “It’s better for the economy when we make things.”
By keeping Bassett Furniture afloat, John Bassett was able to save 700 jobs — and by filing a lawsuit against Chinese furniture companies that were violating World Trade Organization regulations, he was able to save an American legacy.
“Americans are getting sick and tired of losing,” he told Macy of the closing of 63,300 American furniture factories between 2001 and 2012. “Sooner or later our business and government leaders have got to turn and face the enemy again. I did it, and you know what I found out? They’re not as damn tough as everybody thinks they are.”