MARIETTA - If plans to restart production at Fenton Art Glass come to fruition, it could mean the return of one of the area's signature tourism draws - the Fenton factory tour.
In late May, it was learned that New York-based U.S. Glass is in talks with the Williamstown-based Fenton company and investors about resuming production of Fenton's traditional art glass, which was discontinued a year ago.
Nothing has been finalized, but U.S. Glass Chairman and CEO George Bem has said the goal was to have production started by August, with the plant up to full capacity by 2013.
"We're still in active discussions, lots of details that need to be worked out for that to move forward," said George Fenton, president of Fenton Art Glass.
U.S. Glass hopes to offer Fenton products for sale in stores like Macys and Neiman Marcus.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Glass said this week that everything was still being considered and more would be revealed in the coming months.
Randy Fenton, president of the Fenton Gift Shop, a separate entity housed in the same facility as the glass company, said if production resumes in Williamstown, factory tours would likely follow.
"I believe as long as the gift shop is here, we would certainly want to start the tours again," he said. "That would be a U.S. Glass decision, but I believe they see the importance of the tours."
Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the return of the tours would be a definite boost to local tourism. Experiential travel like that is popular among many people, she said.
"Fenton has a long history with bringing motorcoaches into the area," she said.
Blue Springs, Mo., resident Sara Speaight, 74, and her husband, Richard, the president of the Fenton Finders of Greater Kansas City, used to go on at least two Fenton factory tours a year when they were in the area for glass conventions or to visit family.
"We enjoyed the tours," Speaight said. "It depended on who you got for your tour guide. They always give a different tour each time."
Randy Fenton said the gift shop saw an uptick in traffic after the end of glass production was announced last year.
While things are returning to pre-announcement levels, he said people still come into the gift shop saying they wanted to get there before it was too late.
"People are wondering what our future is. Will we be making and producing glass here? Will we be going out of business?" Randy Fenton said.
While production is not expected to resume until later in the summer if the deal is successful, George Fenton said there are still reasons to come to the factory and gift shop.
"Although there is not actual glass-making going on, there are things to see and things to buy," he said.
Fenton is still producing decorative beads, and tours featuring that process are offered on weekdays at the gift shop. They run every half-hour, with the first starting around 9 a.m. and the last going out around 1:30 p.m., Randy Fenton said.
There will also be a trio of glass-collecting conventions in Marietta and Vienna in late July.
One of those conventions will be hosted by the National Fenton Glass Society. Group President Les Rowe, a Tallmadge resident, said membership has remained steady at around 750 even after the announcement that traditional production was ceasing. He said he's optimistic Fenton can return in some capacity.
"I think it's viable," he said. "I don't think it can come back on a large scale."
Randy Fenton said the company does not currently have the inventory to conduct its traditional summer tent sale, but it is working on some sort of local sale and promotion to be offered in July.
In addition, glass items from throughout the company's 107-year history will be up for auction on July 28 at Randy Clark's Auction Gallery in Dexter City. It's the third of three auctions of Fenton assets this year to help the company meet obligations to creditors.