PUTNEY -- Frank Wilson, the longtime Putney resident who founded Basketville and helped build the small basket shop along Sacketts Brook into an international business, died Saturday of Alzheimer’s disease.
He would have been 90 on Aug. 2.
At the height of its success, Basketville had nine stores, stretching up and down the East Coast from Vermont to Florida.
The company was also one of the first to feature exotic handcrafts from all over the world and Wilson became known as an expert in international business and trade.
There were very few parts of the globe that Wilson did not do business in, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.
Wilson graduated from Brattleboro High School in 1937 and worked as an apprentice to his father in the Sidney Gage Basketry in North Westminster until 1941.
That year, at the age of 22, he purchased the West River Basket Co. in Putney and founded Basketville.
The company established itself, selling its handmade baskets made from Vermont ash and oak in small stands and stores around Windham County, and then quickly opened accounts with stores such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward all over the country.
In 1956, Wilson purchased what is now the retail store on the northern edge of the village, when his company was outgrowing its former space.
It was also in 1956 that Wilson imported his first basket from overseas.
According to Wilson’s autobiography, "Basketville," he came up with the plan after talking to U.S. Sen. George Aiken of Putney.
Wilson asked Aiken how he could compete with international companies which had lower overhead costs and the senator, and Putney native, said, "If you can’t beat them, join them."
He was one of the first American businessmen to trade with China after President Richard Nixon ended the trade embargo in 1971.
Eventually the company established its own factory in China, originally shipping the wooden raw materials from Vermont where they were made into baskets by Asian craftspeople and then shipped back to America.
In 1996, Basketville closed its Putney factory, essentially ceasing the basket craft work that had been done in the area for hundreds of years.
The company’s final store outside of Putney in Venice, Fla., closed in 2008.
In the 1990s, after retiring from the day-to-day responsibilities at Basketville, Wilson consulted with companies in Russia and East Europe that were seeking to start capitalist businesses after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Wilson was born in Warehouse Point, Conn., though his family first settled in Vermont in the 1700s, and he considered himself a lifelong Vermonter.
He was the second of 13 children and grew up in Brattleboro.
He served in the Vermont Legislature from 1969 to 1972.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.