Plenty of Richmonders have Bassett furniture in their homes. For a long time, the Southwest Virginia company was king of Colonial revival chic.
Now the company's long history is receiving wider notice as a subject of Roanoke Times reporter Beth Macy’s best-selling book, “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local -- and Helped Save an American Town.”
Recently featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “All Things Considered,” the book details the shrewd and inventive fight by John Bassett III to keep jobs in Virginia by refusing to send his manufacturing to China. The book has been hailed by New York Times critic Janet Maslin as “an illuminating, deeply patriotic David vs. Goliath book.”
It all started when Macy wrote a 2012 newspaper series about the aftereffects of globalization on nearby factory towns. She was inspired by the work of a photographer, Jared Soares, who had been documenting the region around Martinsville. Since sending its manufacturing offshore, Bassett Furniture closed nearly all its stateside factories and became a ghost town. But Galax -- where John Bassett III’s own Vaughan-Bassett’s furniture business is based -- still thrives.
Through her publicist, Macy commented on her own background as the daughter of factory workers and why she wrote the book. “Marginalized people deserve a witness,” Macy says. “In this case, the displaced workers were just waiting for someone to come along and describe the creeping small-town carnage created by acronyms like NAFTA and WTO, all of it forged by faraway people who had never bothered to see the full result of what globalization had wrought.”
She added: “What [Bassett] pulled off was big, bold and counterintuitive: He’d orchestrated the filing of what was then the largest anti-dumping petition against the People’s Republic of China -- and won. And he’d done it from tiny Galax a town better known for bluegrass and barbecue. The tale sounded fascinating from the moment I first heard it, but like all stories, the deeper you dig, the more complicated and more layered it gets.”
You can meet Beth Macy and hear her read from the book when she comes to Chop Suey Books on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. A discussion and signing will follow the reading. She will also be at the Library of Virginia on Nov. 18 from noon to 1 p.m.