East Dundee's Haeger Potteries closing after 145 years
The rich history of Haeger Potteries is woven into the fabric of the East Dundee community.
Started by David Haeger in 1871, the company fired the first bricks that helped rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire.
In the early 1900s, his son, Edmund, led the company through its transformation from making bricks to specializing in pottery and glazed artware. Edmund built a working ceramics factory at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair, then went on to hire designers and continue expanding the company.
Years later, Haeger Potteries at 7 Maiden Lane became somewhat of a second home to David Haeger's great-granddaughter, Lexy Haeger Estes, whose father was president of the company before she assumed the role in 1979.
Now, after 145 years in business, Haeger Potteries will end its operations next month -- "the most difficult decision we have ever faced," Haeger Estes said.
Craig Zachrich, chief operating officer and Haeger Estes' husband, said the showroom may temporarily remain open after the plant closes, and the company may offer sales as the closing date draws nearer.
A fourth-generation owner of the family-operated business, Haeger Estes grew up spending weekends in the factory with her father, fascinated by the pieces of artwork that turned cherry red as they moved through the tunnel kiln. At 8, she started working in the showroom, where she was tasked with carefully dusting the pottery that lined the shelves and labeling artware with price tags.
Later, she worked in the factory, built close-knit relationships with longtime employees, and practiced business ethics and principles she learned from her father, Joseph Estes.
"The stewardship of this company has been the most important thing in my life and my husband's life," she said. "We were carrying on such a beautiful legacy."
But the economic downturn and foreign competition proved to be too much, she said, and Haeger Potteries announced in a Facebook post Wednesday that it will be closing near the end of May.
Haeger Estes said it became increasingly difficult for the artware and decorative accessory business to stay open. Gift shops and independent furniture stores are hard to come by, she said, and larger stores are buying their goods from abroad.
Zachrich said the downturn can also be attributed to a declining societal interest in specialty items.
"The reality is that we are finding it more and more difficult to compete in a market with significant wage pressure, increased regulations and generally rising costs," Haeger Estes said in the Facebook post.
"We hoped things were going to be turning around," she added, "but they have not."
Haeger Potteries closing its doors may not be a major financial setback for East Dundee, Village President Lael Miller said, but it is a significant "emotional and emotional loss for the village." He recalled the large crowds that traveled from across the region to attend Haeger's large tent sales in its parking lot.
"There was always a huge buzz because people collect Haeger all over the world," he said. "You walk through a store and you can immediately identify a piece of Haeger pottery. ... They have a design and a style that's just timeless."