Posted 10/8/12

Bells Are Ringing

Bells Aplenty in Belltown
Photo by Steve Kotchko

Back in July we told you in this space about the courageous effort by the town of East Hampton and folks at Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, the nation’s last mass producer of bells, to re-start the business destroyed by fire after a lightning strike back in May.

Last week, company owner Matt Bevin held another news conference with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 2nd District Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) to announce that bell production has resumed in temporary facilities just a short distance from the firm’s original and historic site, still being cleaned up after the fire.

An array of bells were displayed on a table, but Bevin wasn’t giving out samples, explaining that every one of the little jinglers is spoken for by customers:  cowbells for a minor league sports team in Wisconsin, and a big order of handbells for the Salvation Army as the charity gets set for its street corner kettle campaign of fundraising during the Christmas season.

Discussing the road back from disaster, Courtney told Bevin Brothers workers:  “Most reasonable people would think it’s too much, but obviously it wasn’t.  You overcame this unbelievable challenge and we’re just so proud in Connecticut to be here at the resurrection of this historic company.”

The Associated Press was there to chronicle the comeback story and send it nationwide.  Who would care about a little bell maker in Connecticut?  The Bevin bell is truly iconic.  The company made sleigh bells, school bells, wedding bells, doorbells, ship’s bells and other models that were shipped to a myriad of locations.  For years, the New York Stock Exchange opened and closed to the sound of a Bevin bell.  Santas in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade jingle-jangled the firm’s products, so did Good Humor ice cream vendors.  And that little bell that rings on the Christmas tree at the end of the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a Bevin bell.      

“Today is really a great American story,” said Blumenthal, “lightning struck and Bevin Brothers was given up for dead.”  He continued:  “Now it’s back, better than ever, a triumph for Team Belltown.”

Sen. Blumenthal & Matt Bevin
Photo by Steve Kotchko
East Hampton’s nickname is “Belltown”.  There is a bell logo on every street sign in town.  You can understand why the locals have gone out of their way to encourage and assist Matt Bevin get the company going again.  Several local firms have helped with parts, machinery, and other contributions to get the bell maker back into production.

Bevin said he is grateful to all who helped, and knows they feel as he does that the return of his firm is a testament to the strength of American small business in the face or enormous challenges ranging from natural disasters to foreign competition, especially from China.

“It (his company’s return) does speak to a much larger story of small business in America, in this town, in this county, and in this state,” said Bevin.  “There are any number of other fantastic little stories like this one—find them, report on them, and purchase from them,” he pleaded. 

Ringing one of the bells on display, Bevin said:  “If that doesn’t sound like the American dream in action, like small business rising, like hope in Belltown, then I don’t know what does—that’s a beautiful thing.”

Blumenthal agreed.  “The American dream is about risk-takers and entrepreneurs willing to put it on the line and step forward,” he said.  “The lesson coming from this story is ‘made in America’ can work.”

So far, the revived bell maker has turned out about 50,000 new bells of various varieties and hopes to fill more orders.  When the firm gets back on its feet, Bevin hopes to relocate to the original site in a new facility that will be part factory and part museum for the tradition of bell making in Connecticut.

Though his firm is the last bell maker of consequence in America, Bevin doesn’t want any comparisons to supposedly antiquated products such as buggy whips.  As the Salvation Army contract shows, there is still a demand for bells.

Bevin said psychologically a bell sells itself.  “It conjures up a pleasant memory,” he said.  “It’s rare that you hear a bell that you don’t smile.”  Bevin explained:  “Bells are rung at weddings; they’re rung when you’re being released from school, and to encourage an athlete on the field, on the slopes, or on the trail.”  He concluded:  “There is something about a bell that appeals to people—no pun intended.”

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