Cross pen maker seeks revival with flagship store

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The company that makes Cross pens is on a push to reinvigorate its 170-year-old brand, starting with a flagship store in the same city where it was founded and once crafted its fountain pens in a steam-powered factory.

A.T. Cross Co. CEO Robert Baird said Wednesday his company's recent move from suburban Lincoln, Rhode Island, to the Foundry complex near downtown Providence is part of a broader strategy to recruit skilled workers who can market and design its high-end writing instruments.

"I wanted to be downtown because it's a great, vibrant city," said Baird, citing "access to talent, lifestyle for talent, and affordability" as the reasons.

The brand known for its gold-plated business pens has also launched its first major advertising effort in years, with glossy ads running in magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. And it's planning next year to relaunch the luxury Sheaffer pens brand, which it acquired it 2014, to tailor it to younger generations.

Rhode Island offered the company $1.9 million in tax credits and other incentives to help with the headquarters move, based in part on plans to add 35 new jobs in coming years. Baird said he previously considered relocating to Connecticut or elsewhere but preferred staying in Rhode Island, where the company's roots run deep.

The firm's immigrant founder Richard Cross moved to Providence from Birmingham, England, in the 19th century. His original business was making gold and silver casings for pencils. The family business later moved into mechanical pencils, Stylographic pens and fountain pens and the firm was passed on to son Alonzo Cross, for whom it is named. It left the city for a suburban office park in the 1960s, but that spot "wasn't right for us anymore," Baird said.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, both Democrats, joined Baird for a ribbon-cutting at the new store Wednesday. The brand is a source of pride for the tiny state, even though it's now owned by New York private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners and most of the pens are manufactured in China.

"I think every Rhode Islander has a story of a friend or a neighbor or an aunt or an uncle who worked at A.T. Cross or knew someone who worked at A.T. Cross," Raimondo said.

Baird said his longer-term plans include moving more manufacturing work back to the United States.

Raimondo said she signs bills into law with Cross pens. Elorza recalled a treasured pen gifted from an uncle who used to work at the company.

The company has also supplied pens to President Barack Obama and many of his White House predecessors, and has presented some for consideration to the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump.

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