As covered by the Gaston Gazette, April 2013 (Cramerton is a close suburb of Charlotte, NC)
A 60-year-old Gaston County tradition is coming to an end.
Baker Furniture Co. in Cramerton plans to close by the end of July, having furnished local homes for three generations.
Owners Jim and Sandra Van Pelt say the time is right to stop working 12-hour days and start spending that time with their four grandchildren.
Customers have come to expect the VIP treatment from the business. Sandra Van Pelt often travels to customers’ homes to measure spaces before placing orders.
Baker’s has built a reputation of carrying high-end brands.
It’s come a long way since Sandra Van Pelt’s father, Floyd “Red” Baker, opened the store in 1949 in his garage.
He sold discount furniture to people still recovering from the Great Depression.
Sandra Van Pelt recounts how the business was born. Her parents drove to Hickory to buy a mahogany bedroom suite from a manufacturer. Baker, hunting a bargain, asked if he could get a good deal.
The salesman agreed, but on the condition that Baker buy six bedroom suites instead of one.
The couple made the deal. They put one set of furniture in their home and the other five on the lawn for sale. Customers soon arrived, and “Red” Baker watched the business continuously expand until his death in 1985.
That’s when Jim and Sandra Van Pelt became owners. Their grown children, Greg Van Pelt and Holly Hite, also work at the store.
Less attention to quality
For the last five years, annual sales at the furniture store have totaled $5 million, said Jim Van Pelt. He and his wife take pride in serving discerning clients from Charleston, S.C., to Atlanta.
But the Charlotte region provides loyal customers who, Sandra Van Pelt says, wouldn’t go anywhere else to buy furniture.
“In a small business like this, your customers become your family,” Jim Van Pelt said. “So that’s the bittersweet part.”
Styles and customer habits have changed dramatically over the decades.
Two decades ago, clients wanted everything in a living room to match. From the draperies to the armchairs to the sofa, the “matchy-matchy” style was the rage.
But these days, eclectic styles are in fashion and anything goes.
The Van Pelts have filled fewer custom furniture orders in recent years. Some customers lost interest in picking out solid wood frames, flipping through sample books and selecting ornate fabrics.
They want to walk in a furniture showroom, scout out items they think will look good and leave with the purchases in tow, Sandra Van Pelt said.
Many customers are also paying less attention to quality and are more focused on the price tag.
“Most people have become a lot more conscious of price because of the economy,” she said. “Even people that have money, they’re not throwing it away. They’re still careful with how they spend it.”
Beverly Cole of Gastonia has moved several times over the past five decades. And the staff at Baker Furniture Co. has been there to help her redecorate each home.
“They wanted to please you so much. I really do think that’s the thing that Gastonia is going to miss so much,” she said. “You knew when you went over there, if you couldn’t find it, they were going to order it for you. That personalized attention is going to be hard to come by now.”
She can’t recall exactly how many furniture pieces she’s bought from the Van Pelts. Since 1960, they’ve helped her select beds, living room furnishings, dining room tables and framed pictures.
After recently moving into an apartment, she found herself once again calling on the services of the Van Pelts. They helped find a headboard for a bed that matches her night stand.
Then Sandra Van Pelt arrived to help her place furniture in different rooms.
“I’m going to miss them terribly,” Cole said. “It’s been a wonderful relationship with needing furniture and having some wonderful people to buy it from.”
The store is still fully stocked. The Van Pelts replenish the showroom with items from an on-site warehouse. They hope to have all furniture and rugs liquidated by the end of July.
Jim Van Pelt said the property and 40,000-square-foot brick building are for sale.
The business has always been on Market Street. Additions and renovations have been made over the years to accommodate more showroom space.
Sandra Van Pelt said longtime customers hear about the store closing and stop by to greet her. Then they cry together and remember the friendships made.
It’s emotional because she’s been involved in the business all her life.
“We have always strived to sell people good furniture and give them choices,” she said.
As covered by the Gaston Gazette, April 2013