Simon Pearce maintains deep ties with Upper Valley, Dartmouth

by Zach Cherian | 10/18/16 12:00am

For Simon Pearce, glassblowing is about the connection between art and place.

“I believe when you’re doing anything creative like making glass or pottery, the surroundings and where you live have a pretty big impact,” Pearce said. “That’s why I would never set up shop in an industrial area or a [place with a] factory sort of feeling. I think the surroundings actually play an important part even though you can’t directly connect [glassblowing and location].”

Pearce’s eponymous company, Simon Pearce, opened its original location in Quechee, Vermont in 1981. The Quechee location boasts not only Simon Pearce’s main glassware store, but also a glassblowing workshop with live demonstrations and a high-profile restaurant where reservations need to be made well in advance. When settling on a location, Pearce had certain priorities in mind.

“I was looking for somewhere with three things that I was not prepared to compromise on. One was somewhere beautiful to work and raise a family, the second one was somewhere we could do a good retail business, and the third one was somewhere we could make electricity,” Pearce said. “The mill in Quechee fulfilled all the things we were looking for.”

Twenty years ago, Simon Pearce opened a location in Hanover to expand the business, but despite the expansion and the perfect location in Vermont, Simon Pearce experienced several hiccups. After Hurricane Irene, the company had to rebuild everything in Quechee. Even the Hanover location, which was originally a boutique in the Hanover Inn, had to pick up and move house when the Inn remodeled.

“It’s proved to be a good move. We’re growing busier and busier, and sales in this spot continue to grow,” store manager Mike Vermeulen said, crediting the College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for the location’s growth. “But probably the biggest part is our local clientele.”

Right now, Simon Pearce’s Upper Valley stores are busily preparing for the holiday season, and the Hanover location is gearing up for more customers come December, the most profitable time of the year besides Commencement. An additional source of revenue has been Dartmouth students using Simon Pearce for their wedding registries, Pearce said.

“The area has been very good to us,” Pearce said. “We have a lot of local business, and we have quite a lot of people who come for summer vacations and so on.”

In addition, the restaurant in the Quechee location has long been an Upper Valley favorite for both the food and the experience. The restaurant started serving lunches but could not cover costs, so it expanded into dinner service as well.

“It’s become an important part of the mill because the mill is really a destination,” Pearce said. “People will bring friends on a Saturday or Sunday to watch the glassmaking and have lunch. The idea of the food was to make it more of a destination.”

But the company has more in mind than profit. Besides being a popular store, Simon Pearce is also an important educational institution for the art of glassblowing.

“We don’t have a formal apprenticeship because what we found is that people learn differently,” Pearce said. “When we hire somebody to learn the trade of glassmaking, we put them with a skilled glassmaker, and they have to learn to bring what we call the ‘bits,’ like a foot for a wine glass, a stem for a wine glass, a handle for a pitcher. So they learn to gather, and they learn to handle the glass, and then they start to learn to blow the glass.”

Pearce said that on average, proficiency is possible within a few years.

As the company grows, Simon Pearce has no doubts about staying in the Upper Valley.

“I can’t imagine us ever not being in the mill. We love it here, we’ve had a wonderful experience here,” Pearce said.

According to the marketing department at Simon Pearce, there are multiple upcoming times to meet members of the Pearce family and celebrate the release of Pearce’s new book, “Simon Pearce: Design for Living,” in the next few weeks. Andrew Pearce, one of Pearce’s sons, will be on location in Hanover on Oct. 22. He and his father will both attend another release party at the main Quechee store on Nov. 12.