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This is the first of the series of articles about Chess Dealers and Makers from Natraja.org.


Chess Dealers No1 – June 2010 


Huntsville, is town in town in Alabama, US, a town that is not a town what you understand in other parts of the world, or one can say it is town with no heart.

 

When you live in Europe, you are used to the idea of a town centre, where there is a church, some shops, and few eating places. Even in the village, they have bakery and coffee shop to give you some warmth; ‘the heart of the place’. Stopping for a coffee or a meal can give you the flavour of the place and its people.

 

Huntsville has nothing like this; there is no downtown as such, except a nice park, with a lake, next to it, is the town museum. When I took a taxi from my hotel asked for the downtown, the taxi driver was bit baffled, where exactly I wanted to go? Luckily I had looked at the map earlier, I knew about the museum that had some blue glass vases, shown on its web-site. The day of visit unfortunately the museum was closed for renovation probably for few months.

 

Later after my return, Frank Camaratta, whom I was visiting at House of Staunton, did correct me that there is part of the town that has few eating places and a town hall etc. but I could not find it, in spite of making several enquires from people in the park. Since the US on whole is country where you know the place and drive to it, it’s not like Europe where you walk and discover the places.

 

It is also cultural difference, when I was only as student I made an appointment to see someone in a large company, who came to meet me right at the platform of the train I was arriving, before he took me to his office he drove me through the town, and told me little about it. May US companies are not used to such courtesies.

 

I had come to Huntsville to see House of Staunton probably world’s largest chess dealer, and its creator a legendary man, Frank Camaratta. The name ‘House of Staunton’ was conveniently chosen by Frank after the name of self-proclaimed world champion, Howard Staunton.

 

When I was taken to the House of Staunton by Frank Camaratta. From the name ‘House of Staunton’ I expected to be housed in a grand stone building. It was certainly a warehouse, as he called it, housing an efficiently run company, which supplies all the requirement of US Chess Federation and others.

 

Frank Camarattalearned to play chess at age 16, and once represented the US on the Correspondence Olympic team, played first Board and achieved the ICCF International Master Title. Frank Camaratta worked in several positions, as an engineer in space industry, and ran his own businesses.

 

Camaratta retired in 1998 to run the House of Staunton, full time, which he started in 1990. He has developed this business, like a love affair, where you put all you have, he did the same with his business.

 

No doubt Camaratta had developed it as a business, at the same time he researched, collected and designed chess sets. Leaving aside the museums, Camaratta probably has the most interesting chess sets collection. His house which looks like a wooden chalet, but once you step inside, it is a difference story. World’s unique chess-sets are everywhere even in his bedroom. If I say, Camaratta’s first love is chess; Gwen, his second wife, a gem of a woman, will forgive me for this statement. 

 

Shawn Sullivan started his career as a computer games designer, chess happened to be one of the games. He joined House of Staunton at the invitation of Frank Camaratta, now he owns and runs the company.

 

Shawn when I first heard his name, I imagined a woman with big smile, who is just a good business woman as many American women are today.  But this big man in his half pants is quiet an unassuming serious businessman. Though before my visit, I was warned by couple of people to stay away from this man; but when he greeted with a charming smile and a big handshake, I jokingly told him that I had come to check he would stand to his reputation. Shawn knows about his reputation, it doesn’t bother him at all.

 

Shawn Sullivan is no doubt very serious about his business, and with his large body structure, his efficiency bordering on to giving the impression of an unfriendly person. It is just unfortunate, but once you know him, he is a very warm person. You need to meet him away from HOS, possibly on a dinner, which I was lucky to be invited one evening before I left Huntsville.

 

On dinner table, Shawn was totally relaxed and his wife Amy, delight of a woman, her innocence gives you the feeling of teenage girl.

 

Back to the House of Staunton, the warehouse certainly has a very large floor area, where selves after shelves are full of all grades of Chess-sets boxes marked JS Arts, Amritsar, the main supplier to this large company.

 

Frank Camaratta, no doubt, is proud of his achievement of making this company world’s largest chess dealer; he is also bitter about his previous supplier/maker from Amritsar.

 

Camaratta placed his total trust in his supplier. I was shown; most of the upper shelves of this warehouse are full of set supplied by the previous supplier. I was told this whole stock is now almost worthless.  I asked Camaratta, how he kept taking such poor quality products for so long. I was told that the supplier gave him the picture that every other chess-maker in Amritsar was a crook, better he stuck with him.

 

Camaratta is not a man who distrusts people; as a result he kept the same supplier for over a decade, until he found out that his supplier was secretly supplied the same products to his competitors. Then one day by supplier’s mistake, Camaratta received a parcel, which was sent to his competitor. This was enough proof of the lies of his supplier; he immediately looked for another supplier and appointed JS Arts as HOS. I have met this supplier from Amritsar, whom I found a polite man, it is very difficult to know the real problem between the supplier and the buyer; which always a complicated matter.

 

Longterm Supplies

Now HOS uses JS Arts of Amritsar for his supplies. I understand that JS Arts is keeping the quality to the expected standards, though there are some communication problems.

HOS being a well run company, its normal for them to be concerned for its longterm supplies. i am offering only a friendly advice that JS Arts should improve upon several points to give HOS a surety that it has planned for for the future and it has plans to cope with emergencies.

I know many people in India think they will see what to do when needed. This is not good strategy. May be I need not worry about such things, its a problem which JS Arts needs to thing about. Since I have lived in Europe where it is common practice for companies of the size of JS Arts to develop long term planning.

I must make it clear, I am raising these points only cause, I wish well to JS Arts, and all other craftsmen in India, who work very very hard. I am an outsider in a way, an outsider can see when the ship is limping and people inside ship can be complete unaware of the pending danger.

 

Other side of the coin is that HOS or even other dealers in US and the Europe, are keeping their hands-off policy, without bothering to know more who the suppliers are, what their production capacity is, and if their workers are paid a fair wage.

 

A similar attitude existed in the clothing, carpets and other industries in the developing countries, where workers worked in archaic conditions, used child labour etc. Thanks to the interest of the media in such ethical issues, the conditions of hundreds of thousand workers improve.

 

When producers in developing countries are asked to clean up their act, it’s not only that workers benefit, but the quality of the products has improved and producers did become more efficient and as a result, buyers/dealers benefit too. The products arrive on time and improved quality gives piece of mind.

 

For my next report, I would like to meet more dealers of chess, to hear their views and problems. If you will be happy to help giving your views, please contact me directly or through www.natraja.org.

 

www.Natraja.org is site created to help the buyers and the makers of chess-sets. www,natraja.com has commissioned a Limited Edition Artist Signed chess sets, to create an example of good trading, when makers are paid a decent price for their work. More info please visit www.nataja.com

 

Avtarjeet Dhanjal

www.natraja.org

 

(Avtarjeet visited Huntsville 18-24 May, 2010)



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