The aftermath of the early-morning fire that destroyed Bevin Bros. Manufacturing May 27 in East Hampton quickly evolved into something more than a story about a small town's loss and rebuilding a factory.
No, this was big and it got bigger as May turned into June. This was not any small business, it was a bell factory, the last of its kind in the country. This was not any small town, it was Belltown. Still intimately an East Hampton story, it has garnered national interest. People want to help. Comebacks, not quitting, rallying around a cause, made in the USA, the historical significance ... in many respects, the story is distinctly American. A far cry from Memorial Day weekend, rebuilding isn't just a hope anymore, it is a mission. It is the happy ending everyone wants, and the commitment to achieve that was clear Friday at a press conference on the grounds of Bevin Bros.
Help for Bevin Bell immediately came after the fire from all corners of East Hampton, from businesses and individuals. Within the days and weeks to come, the state was involved that resulted in a Small Business Express Grant. Help was offered and received from other businesses in the state and then beyond. Donations have come in and so too have many expressions of condolences or shared memories of a business that stood for 180 years. At some point in the future, federal assistance also could be on the way.
It is that kind of support that Senator Richard Blumenthal vowed to continue.
“Today is another very profoundly important step by team Belltown to make this factory work again. To give these workers a chance to have jobs, to give small business a chance to flourish,” Blumenthal said. “If these bells are not made in this factory, the only place people can buy them is China. People will buy bells from China rather than this factory in America’s Belltown and that’s why Team Belltown is going to continue working relentlessly. It is a team. The DECD [Department of Economic and Community Development] is here today. The Governor has been very interested and involved. Sue [Weintraub] and others in local government have been involved. I’ve been working with [Congressman] Joe Courtney, very much a part of the team, and working with federal agencies … doing everything possible we can to expand export opportunities. The product made at this factory is internationally renowned.”
Matt Bevin, the President of Bevin Bros. Manufacturing, struck an equally positive note. Bevin said the company is making progress and that some equipment is in place and other equipment is arriving.
“It is literally being installed as we speak,” he said. “We will just continue to put one foot in front of the next until we are continuing to make bells in Belltown.”
Bevin has set up a on Watrous Street for the bell factory and PSI Plus until a new factory is built. And where will that new factory be built?
“For many reasons I intend to continue to make bells on this property,” Bevin said, referring to where the factory has always stood.
Bevin said he hopes to salvage some of the original structure and incorporate it into the new plant. The smokestack that still stands tall, however, is too unstable and will have to come down.
Any talk of the new factory is getting way ahead of ourselves, which brings us to the main reason why the press conference was called.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re not making a new product and until we do, we realize we need to come up with some form of new revenue source,” Bevin said. “We need to come up with something that will allow us to keep the lights on as we move into our new space, to buy new equipment and to continue to keep the bells in Belltown. So, we have some things that we have basically pulled from the rubble, pulled from the fire, that we have packaged, that we’re selling to people as a way to have a piece of history, a memento, a way to be a part of keeping the bells in Belltown.
Among those items are bricks from the factory with a metal sign attached that say Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Company, An American Tradition since 1832. This brick survived the devastating fire of May 27, 2012. keepthebellsinbelltown.com.
There also are bumper stickers, T-shirts and a survivor sleigh bell neatly packaged in a nicely designed box that includes inside a letter from Bevin. It also contains a fold-out brochure outlining the history of the company and that tells about some of the products it has made as well as more recent events.
The items range in price from a $1 to $25 and can be purchased at Old Home Day in East Hampton on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“They’re meant to be affordable, they’re meant to be used, they’re meant to be received by many people and they’re meant to be symbolic of what it is we are trying to do, which is to literally rise from these ashes and to keep the bells in Belltown,” Bevin said.
The items also will be available at the Haddam Neck Fair Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 and other places in the area in the weeks to come. Eventually, the items will be available over the internet at keepthebellsinbelltown.com. Orders for the commemorative box currently can be taken over the internet. Visit bevinbells.com for instructions.
“We’re committed to being in this for as long as it takes to keeping the bells in Belltown,” Bevin said. “It will take a significant sum of both time and money as well as other resources the likes of which we’ve been speaking of and others that we can’t even yet anticipate in order to be truly back to where we were.”
Blumenthal, an advocate for small business for years, said there was another profound lesson here.
“Nothing is impossible if people are willing to commit,” he said. “This story has impressed and inspired people all across the country. We can make it a national success story. My colleagues are deeply impressed by the courage and vision and fortitude of the people of East Hampton and Matt Bevin and the people of Connecticut. I’m going to buy one of these sets today and personally deliver to the President of the United States and the Vice President so that they know that small business in Connecticut is alive and well and fighting hard and we’re fighting with them to make sure they succeed.”
Bevin said that in the next couple of weeks the company will be producing some of the components necessary to start the bell operations back up again. Thanks in part to all the support he has received.
“We’ve had such an outpouring of support from people in this community on many, many fronts,” he said.
That includes local metal shops that have volunteered the use of their presses.
“They said ‘Bring us your die, we’ll make the product for you,’” Bevin said. “So we’re going to take advantage of that. This is such a collective effort that goes beyond this town and even beyond this state.”
Bevin also indicated that he does have orders, which he intends to fill.
“My determination is to make sure I do everything possible to keep our clients as full of product as I can until we are fully back up and in operation,” he said.
That includes the Salvation Army, which had a huge order in place before the fire.
“We’re going to fill that order,” Bevin said. “It is our intent when you hear the bells ringing on the street corners by the red kettles this Christmas, they will be Bevin Bells and not some other bell that you can’t pronounce.”
Small steps in what is to be many small steps. As Bevin said, “There is a long way to go,” but it is not an endless journey and it is one worth traveling. Too many have rallied around a 180-year-old small business in a small town that defied the odds and continued manufacturing a product that was made in the USA.
“The issue du jour is offshoring and outsourcing,” Blumenthal said. “Here we have an opportunity to really make a difference for specific people with jobs that matter and we’re going to make that difference. We’re going to bring the company back. Team Belltown, Team Connecticut is going to make sure that small business thrives here. We’re going to do everything possible in reaching out selling these items, but more significantly, making sure that export opportunities, funds, loans, grants are available so that this company can rebuild and go back to its greatness and expand on greatness in an even bigger market.”
As Bevin showed off the items for sale, he removed one of the sleigh bells from its packaging and jingled it.
“It still sounds great,” he said with a proud smile. “It sounds like hope, it sounds like progress and it sounds like the future of Belltown.”