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Scalamandre fabric maker leaves boro after 75 years

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The company has been sought out by people and institutions that can afford such luxury since Franco Scalamandre paid $5,000 as a down payment to buy a mill at 37-24 24th St. in 1929.

The name has long since been synonymous with wealth and luxury.

Production will go on but not in Long Island City. The company has sold its mill and will move most of its operation to Gaffney, S.C.

Mark Bitter, chief executive officer and co-president of Scalamandre, said the cost of doing business there would be 40 percent less.

Bitter said he had sold the Long Island City mill and entered into a joint manufacturing venture with Richard Downing, president of Metropolis Fabrics. The company called Scalmet LLC will operate in an existing 115,000-square-foot, high-tech factory located between the Charlotte and Greenville­/Spartanburg triangle.

"My desire was to preserve the manufacturing legacy of Scalamandre, which could not have been guaranteed given the high cost of manufacturing in Long Island City," Bitter said. "This move will enable us to produce three times more product at 40 percent less cost without compromising on quality or attention to detail."

Bitter said the Long Island City location will still be used for hand-made passementerie (trimming) and skein dying divisions along with archival and studio facilities.

All weaving, dying and finishing operations will move to South Carolina.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), whose district includes Scalamandre, said "this is a shame, a real loss for Queens and New York City. It again calls attention to how badly we need a plan not only to attract businesses and jobs but to create a fertile climate for keeping businesses."

Bitter was quoted in The New York Times as saying 50 of the 90 people who work at the Long Island City plant would be laid off but would receive a severance package and help in getting jobs.

His business partner in South Carolina, Downing, said the plant in Gaffney would employ about 100 people.

Franco Scalamandre bought the Long Island City mill the company still occupies six years after emigrating from Caserta, a renowned silk manufacturing area near Naples. His was a family representing generations of textile weavers and designers who had migrated from France and Spain to Italy in the reign of Don Carlos over the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples in the 18th century.

Scalamandre's first commission in Long Island City was to reproduce seven yards of brocatelle, a heavy. figured cloth usually woven of silk and linen, for the famed publisher William Randolph Hearst.

From that moment, Scalamandre has taken part in preservation efforts, helping to restore the White House, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Prestworld Plantation, Gracie Mansion and the U.S. Treasury Department among many others,.

Franco Scalamandre had handed over the business to his daughter, Adriana Bitter, who learned textile design and technique from an early age. She operated the company along with her husband, Edwin, bringing their four children into the business. Two of them, Mark and Robert, remain.

"It's our intention and absolute dedication to continuing the tradition of Scalamandre," Bitter said. "This move is another step in continuing our legacy."

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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