Tucked into one of the forgotten areas of Amsterdam, Willow Street is like stepping into the city’s past.
While the area was once a hotbed of activity, with flourishing textile and carpet mills, the road is now eerily quiet, lined mostly with empty buildings and unused space.
One family, though, is trying to keep tradition alive. The Bouck family of Perth a year ago purchased what remained of Bojud Knitting Mills and continues to make lace under a new name: Willow Street Lace.
While some textile mills in the area have survived, Willow Street Lace is the only mill in New York and one of only a handful in the country that make lace.
The mill’s massive rooms are filled with storage, old steel and machinery. Where the lace-making operation occurs, thousands of spools of thread so fine it looks like a spider’s silk are fed into the machines to create intricate patterns.
“When someone buys a curtain, you don’t know what really goes into that,” Jenny Bouck said.
The patterns for the lace are on cards with thousands of tiny holes in them. When the machine comes to a hole, the needle puts the thread down.
Only one of Willow Street’s remaining 11 machines is operated by a computer. The rest are controlled by hand.
The company’s three employees watch the spools of thread carefully and quickly change them as they run out.
Allen Bouck has even designed some patterns himself, and some of the patterns are copyrighted by the company and can be found only at Willow Street Lace.
Bojud moved to Amsterdam in the mid-1960s and was one of the larger textile mills in the area. It made lace along with fabric for gloves, material for jerseys and hats, fabric for curtains and sheer fabric for playpens.
In the company’s heyday in the late 1970s and 1980s, it had more than 120 machines running 24 hours a day in two buildings. It employed nearly 200 people and billed about $100,000 per day, Allen Bouck said.
Allen Bouck joined Bojud as a laborer in 1982, when he was 17.
He then moved up the ranks to run his department and was promoted to plant manager in 1995. In 2006, Bojud was going out of business and Bouck thought he’d buy it.
“I already knew the ins and outs of the business, I knew the machines. I didn’t want to start over somewhere else, and I like what I’m doing,” he said. “I thought, ‘might as well give it a try.’ ”
The pair bought Bojud in May 2007.
Bouck makes the raw material for his customers, who then sell the material to “converters” who dye the lace or shape it into what the final customer needs.
Bouck said he mostly makes lace for apparel such as lingerie and for home furnishings.
He is currently working on an order that will eventually be turned into curtains at Disney resorts. His patterns have also sold in Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret.
With debts piling up and competition from overseas, the Boucks are still struggling.
In order to make ends meet, the family rents out space in the building to University Custom Mill Works, which has its main operation in the Edson Street Industrial Park. Jenny Bouck also works two jobs and helps out when she can at the mill.
“We’ve been working night and day just to keep production going,” she said. “It’s been hard.”
The pair has also applied for Empire Zone benefits, but while the building is in the zone, the company has not received state approval because it cannot guarantee job creation numbers, Allen Bouck said.
Despite the hardship of competing with larger businesses overseas and paying down debts, the Boucks are proud to have preserved a little bit of Amsterdam’s history.
“This is what Amsterdam is known for,” Jenny Bouck said. “It’s also cool to know that this is what is left of this type of business in New York and there are only a handful of businesses across the country who do what we do.”
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