RICHMOND — A Madison County man is working to save the iconic Bybee Pottery business that has operated near Richmond for more than 200 years.
Jimmy Cornelison told The Richmond Register that he won't let the business close without a fight.
"I got my first paycheck here from my grandfather when I was 11," Cornelison said. "Bybee Pottery is not going to close if I can possibly help it."
The business is in a state of suspension. Bybee laid off its eight employees in February and sold its remaining inventory. It is neither making nor selling products now, but Cornelison says Bybee has some product that is formed and could be fired.
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He said the business has been having economic problems, especially in the last three years.
More than 50 retailers that sold the company's folk-art plates, pots, bowls, mugs and other items have gone out of business, he said. Meanwhile, there has been a sharp increase in the cost of materials.
Minerals applied to the potter's clay create the colors that make the distinctive patterns in Bybee pottery. Cornelison said the cost of just those minerals went up 40 percent since Jan. 1.
Cornelison said he is working on options he hopes will keep the business open, though it's doubtful that Bybee Pottery would return to the height of its popularity in the early 1980s.
Lori Murphy-Tatum, executive director of the Richmond Tourism Commission, says losing Bybee would be a blow to the community.
Another iconic craft industry left Madison County in 2007, she said. Churchill Weavers, which had operated in Berea since the 1920s, was sold in 2007, and its operations were moved elsewhere.
But Tatum says she has faith in Cornelison.
"If anybody is up to the challenge of keeping Bybee going in its third century, it's Jimmy Cornelison," she said.