BARRINGTON – Combing through the clothing racks in big department stores, few tags include the sentence “Made in the U.S.A.” At Norton’s U.S.A. in Barrington, that’s the only kind of tag you’ll see.
Owner Deborah Leydig has made it her mission to sell only American-made products in her store, although she’s found certain items just are not made in the U.S.A. anymore.
When she opened her shop six years ago on Lageschulte Street, she had products from only 20 American companies. Business has grown and she now has 425 that she does business with.
“It is continually growing the more people are aware of how important it is to shop local, and to buy American, because all the money stays here and it makes jobs,” Leydig said. “There’s a whole segment of society that doesn’t have a job because we don’t manufacture. Not everybody can be a doctor or a lawyer.”
There are some products she has a hard time finding to sell in her store, though she’ll do some pretty extensive research if a customer asks for help finding something American-made.
“Men’s clothing is really hard,” she said. “We make T-shirts. We don’t make many towels. There’s one company that makes towels. There’s no sheets really.”
Leydig’s focus on American products came after reading “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. She wondered how many items actually were still being made in the United States, since labor in other countries usually is cheaper.
“I truly believe every country should manufacture,” she said. “It’s the heart and soul of a nation.”
Norton’s recently added online shopping to the store’s website, allowing patrons throughout the world to buy American products. Leydig said even with the online possibilities, 90 percent of her business comes from those walking through the front door.
Scott Glander is a regular customers who comes from Evanston to buy items made in the U.S. Every item of clothing he had on during a recent visit was made in this country and he said he makes buying American products a priority.
“I literally feel better,” Glander said of his shopping habits. “This is the only store I enjoy coming to.”
Both he and Leydig said it is worthwhile to pay a little more for things that are made in the country, since they’re frequently better quality.
“They’re great and they’re going to last a lifetime,” Leydig said.
There are many American companies that stopped making things the way they used to, and some that sent products to be manufactured overseas. Thermos is an example of this: When Leydig was asked by a customer to help find a thermos, Leydig was only able to find vintage ones, since the products are now made in China.
“Vintage isn’t putting people to work,” Glander said of why that product still isn’t ideal.
The issue of buying American-made products has gained international attention in the last few weeks, after a factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed more than 650 people. Conditions had been unsafe yet workers continued to make clothing for western companies.
Leydig said that with the laws and regulations in the U.S., that would not have happened in this country.
As more people become aware of the difference between buying American or from oversees, more people are visiting Norton’s U.S.A. and Leydig is trying to get to know the community through this.
On June 13, the store is having its sixth anniversary celebration, with events including sales, raffles and bingo going on all week. The store also plans to show a movie June 15 that will be projected onto the outside of the buildling for the public.
“That’s why she’s successful,” Norton’s employee Kathleen Vorhies said of Leydig. “She goes the extra mile.”