The U.S. Repeating Arms Co. factory will receive some highly anticipated visitors this weekend from potential suitor Smith & Wesson, a 154 year old handgun maker, but the visit may not be as significant as initial reports made it sound.
Smith & Wesson spokesman Paul Pluff said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. sent invitations to three or four major firearms manufacturers to come tour the Winchester factory, a New Haven fixture for more than 140 years that produces the Winchester rifle, known as “The Gun That Won the West.” Smith & Wesson accepted the offer to visit, but the company has not signed any type of contract and is not aggressively pursuing a takeover, Pluff said.
Pluff said Wednesday that the significance of a visit to the Winchester factory from representatives of the Massachusetts-based company has been blown out of proportion by the media.
“This is actually being made more than what it is,” Pluff said.
Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, a spokeswoman for DeStefano, said Smith & Wesson is not the first company to tour the Winchester factory since USRAC’s parent company Herstal Group announced in January that the Belgian-owned company would shut down the factory by March 31. City officials decided to release Smith & Wesson’s name Tuesday because Smith & Wesson did not mind being identified as a potential buyer, Sullivan-DeCarlo said.
“We’ve had three companies that have had an interest,” she said. “They’ve come in and out and taken a look. The real measure of seriousness will be financial interest.”
City officials have been searching for a buyer since USRAC hinted it would close the Winchester factory last year, leaving 186 workers potentially jobless.
Local 609 President John Reynolds, who represents the factory’s workers, said union officials have not heard anything definite about a takeover.
“There’s nothing definite that I know of,” Reynolds said. “[But] I hope someone will come in and continue with manufacturing guns.”
Smith & Wesson’s decision on whether or not to buy the Winchester factory will ultimately depend on whether the company can take over the factory profitably, Pluff said.
“You can’t tell that until you go in there [and] look at their costs of manufacturing and all the stuff that goes along with that,” he said.
Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson has been producing handguns since 1852. The company was the largest handgun maker in the United States until 2000.