Williams Furniture Co. to close its doors after 67 years
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Williams Furniture Co. is preparing to shut its doors after 67 years.
For owner Patricia Cohen, that means ending a family business started by her grandfather and mother which has in recent years been operated by herself and her son, Michael.
“I look at what we’ve made in the last four years as almost a victory,” said Cohen. “I know we did everything we could. It’s very sad. It’s my family’s legacy.”
The store, at 60 28th St. SW in Grand Rapids, began a going-out-of-business sale on Thursday, Sept. 26, to liquidate assets. It’s unclear how long the sale will last.
Closing the store wasn’t Cohen’s first choice but the operation has struggled to stay afloat under mounting debt. She holds out a sliver of hope that if the sale goes well, the business could return in another form, similar to the way the Israels family revived Klingman’s, another longtime furniture retailer. She says the business has been able to avoid filing bankruptcy by working with creditors.
“There is a huge amount of loans issued and tax liability,” said Cohen. “This is not going to be easy.”
The store opened in 1946 at the corner of Alger Street SE and Division Avenue when Lorraine Baart, a 28 year-old with an MBA from the University of Alabama, convinced her dad, Jacob Baart, a furniture manufacturer, go into the retail side of the business.
When asked why the store was anointed Williams Furniture instead of using the owners’ name, Cohen replies: “I was told it was named that because it was simple to remember.”
In 1954, the store moved to its current location in a building constructed by Jacob Baart, Cohen said.
Within few years, ownership expanded to include J.B. VanderMeer, a furniture salesman who called on the store before marrying Lorraine Baart. He continued to run the store after his wife and father-in-law died in 1975.
Williams built a reputation for offering furniture in the mid-price range. And selling lots of recliners. Before La-Z-Boy opened stores, Williams ranked fourth in the nation for the sale of recliners.
“We sold more recliners than any single store in the country,” Cohen said.
In 1992, the store was named Retailer of the Year by the Home Furnishings Representatives of Michigan.
“It was always the goal to sell quality furniture with a good value,” said Cohen, who worked during her summers at the store, but eventually earning a law degree.
After VanderMeer died in 2001, the store was run by a management team until Cohen says she took over ownership through court action in 2010.
Now, the store is known for selling a wide range of brands such as England, Best, Vaughan-Bassett, Howard Miller, Klaussner and Lloyd’s of Chatham. Cohen says she took pride in the store carrying American-made products and works by local artists.
“I wanted to help generate jobs in America,” Cohen said.
The store, which previously had a staff of about 20, now has a sales team brought in by the firm handling the liquidation.