Hall Spars & Rigging cuts staff after deal to sell collapses

A Rhode Island maker of high-end sailboat components severely scaled back operations as it searches for a new investor.
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A Rhode Island maker of high-end sailboat components severely scaled back operations as it searches for a new investor to rescue the financially troubled business and its 52 employees.

The situation at Hall Spars & Rigging in Bristol became dire when a deal to sell the company to a new owner suddenly collapsed in late December, president and CEO Thomas Rossi told the Providence Journal. The company had to shut down for the holiday season and is operating with fewer than 10 employees, he said.

"It was very disappointing and very abrupt," Rossi told the newspaper. "I was forced ... to tell people a week before Christmas that they are being furloughed."

Hall Spars, founded in 1980, makes composite parts such as masts for high-performance sailboats, including America's Cup yachts. It has grown to include locations in Holland and New Zealand, which are under separate management and are not affected by the situation in Bristol.

"Hall U.S. is in a different predicament. We are victims of the 2008 recession and the associated loss or drop in discretionary spending, which results in very little boatbuilding being done in the U.S.," Rossi said. “Most of the European work is being done by our Holland facility, and a lot of Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Rim work is being done in New Zealand."

Rossi, a retired Navy commander who has held executive positions at Anteon Corp. in Middletown, R.I., and Caton Connector Corp. in Kingston, R.I., joined Hall Spars last July. His charge, he said, was essentially to help "right the ship." He succeeded Eric Hall, the company founder, who stayed on as chairman.

Because the company has expertise in fabricating strong, lightweight parts of carbon fiber, Hall has sought to diversify into other industries, such as aerospace, Rossi said.

"We changed course to not only support our marine customers, but growing our non-marine work," Rossi said. "But that course change probably came too late. We hit some significant challenges."

During its 36 years Hall Spars has been an integral part of a much-touted marine trades industry clustered around a Bristol industrial park.

"Our hope and our efforts continue to be to recapitalize the company and to bring those employees and customers back," Rossi said. "There's definitely people, local and abroad, that are interested in Hall U.S. surviving and have expressed interest in buying.”

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