'Made in Pa.' products shine at giant housewares show

Naomi and Daniel Berkowitz believe its good business to produce these table goods in Pennsylvania.

Daniel Berkowitz and his wife and business partner, Naomi, have been designing and importing “mostly from China” indoor living and outdoor entertaining products for their West Chester-based Spectrum Imports company for 18 years.

But at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, the company's new Oak & Olive brand has a fresh message to pitch to housewares and gift-shop buyers — “Handcrafted in USA” is good, “Made in Pennsylvania” is even better.

And it is hardly the only exhibitor waving those national and state flags.

“You have to go check out Nest Homeware,” said Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop president Mariella Giovannucci-Esposito, leading a staff shopping tour through the giant new products showcase filling Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center with 2,200 exhibitors. “Nest’s cast-iron pans are really attractive, innovative, with an interesting green cast and beautiful handles shaped to resemble a cherry wood branch. And they’re made not far from Philadelphia.” They're made in Wrightsville, Pa.., by town namesake John Wright Co., founded in 1880.

“Designed, engineered, and assembled in U.S.,” and Pennsylvania, were part of the pitch and product labeling at the Chef’s Choice and All-Clad booths. While Chef’s Choice parent company, EdgeCraft, was recently taken over by the Weston, Fla.-based Legacy Cos. after 31 years of local ownership, the operation is still making top-rated, and globally exported, electric knife sharpeners and food-slicing machines in Chester County's Avondale, including a “groundbreaking” new sharpener that can tackle both ceramic and steel knives, said representative Val Gleason.

At the IHHS, Canonsburg, Pa.-based All-Clad Metalcrafters was touting the comeback of its “classic” LTD cookware line, introduced 35 years ago and “back by popular demand.”

The company’s Pittsburgh-area foundry is again turning out LTD pots and pans in bonded, triple-ply fashion, featuring a thick, conductive aluminum body and polished 18/10 stainless steel cooking surface that is then topped with a scratch- and stain-resistant hard anodized exterior. But now the line is updated to be “dishwasher safe, oven and broiler safe, with improved ergonomic handles,” said press rep Kylie Keegan.

“Wanting to do our part as a small business to bring jobs back to the USA,” Daniel Berkowitz started searching early last year to source a new line of tabletop decor domestically. “We visited crafts shows, all over the country, looking for workers capable of fleshing out our ideas.”

As “luck should have it,” he connected with both an Amish-run wood shop in Lancaster County owned by Chris Stoltzfus and a nearby blacksmith shop “populated with talented workers skilled in furniture making, but clearly struggling.

They’d suffered a reduction in their workforce due to the downturn in the economy. From day one, they were highly enthusiastic and helpful in getting the new products designed. Whole families get involved. And if there’s the slightest problem with quality they’re immediately on the case, fixing it. Much more so than I’ve experienced producing goods in the Far East for the past 25 years.” 

With about a dozen design patents, from waterproof blankets to collapsible tub coolers with Bluetooth speakers, Berkowitz initially sketched out ideas for the inlaid wooden serving boards.

“Then the Lancaster County team started making suggestions for improving the designs, invariably making them better with prettier patterns, interesting edging, and locally sourced hardwoods. Then after we had five designs ready, we expanded to barware,” including artistic wine-bottle holders and wooden trays with hand-tempered metal stands that can carry candles and glasses.

The bottom line has proven just as pretty. “We’re producing better-quality goods at prices that are actually lower or comparable to Chinese-made, when you factor in the costs of shipping and travel to the factories,” said Berkowitz. “There’s a real lesson here that others can learn from and embrace. We’re now working with the Amish community to find other workshops that can manufacture similar items to the ones we currently import. We featured our 'USA-Made Products' on our 2017 catalog front cover, and our Amish collaborators proudly show that off at their community meetings. They won’t let us take their pictures, but they’re otherwise big supporters.”

Reaction from shoppers working the housewares show “has also been quite good,” Naomi Berkowitz said. “And not just from the locals. We just toured a guy through the booth from Australia who’s really excited about carrying the line and ‘buying American.’ ”

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