Welcome to Ohio's Basket City, U.S.A.

September 06, 1992|By Rick Sylvain | Rick Sylvain,Knight-Ridder News Service

DRESDEN OHIO — DRESDEN, Ohio -- Baskets. Washtub-sized baskets line Main Street, bursting with color ful plantings. Along arbored side streets, decorating tended lawns and verandas, are more baskets. At Fifth and Main, tourists do double-takes. There, encircled by flower beds, is the World's Largest Basket. Huge? Picture a rail-car with handles.

Fans of hand-woven, hardwood maple baskets tingle at the mere mention of Dresden, east of Columbus. By the bus-load they make pilgrimages here. And it owes it all to an avuncular man named Dave "Popeye" Longaberger.

With limited schooling and no money, Mr. Longaberger was on a rags-to-rags tack. Basket-making had been a family tradition, but sales were limited to farmers and local ladies.

Seeing foreign-made baskets at every turn, Mr. Longaberger decided to revitalize the flagging family business. From one room and five basket-weavers in 1976, his Longaberger Basket Co. is now at the heart of a multimillion-dollar empire that includes furnishings, home building, a pottery works in East Liverpool, Ohio, and a proposed educational theme park to be called Longaberger World.

Workers at the sprawling Longaberger plant on State Route 16 make 18,000 baskets a day by hand. Baskets are sold at Tupperware-style home parties in all 50 states. Last year, more than 5.5 million were sold. Because no two are alike, they become valuable to collectors.

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