Consolidation of the International Home Furnishings Market
In this excerpt, Barrentine describes the transformation of the International Home Furnishings Market from a loose conglomeration of vendors spread across the state to an assembly of vendors in one location. Using San Francisco as a model, he and others decided to refurbish an old factory and create a central location.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
The Market all that time is growing. Its problems are decreasing because they're being managed properly. They're also decreasing because the area is growing, so you're having more hotels built. That's all a result of being good stewards of the economy around here. The tourist industry was a big participant in building a lot of these hotels. As we managed the problems, they were [also] solving themselves as we grew. Well, not always solved because they're always ready to have a problem, but they're managed.
Then the idea [arose] that the Market ought not to be separated as widely. People, who came to this Market, traveled it and worked it and liked it, but that generation was changing. The next generation hadn't remembered when you had to go to the factories all over. The new generation didn't care particularly that you could go have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Burnhart. [They didn’t care that] they'd take you home with them or Mr. and Mrs. Broyhill. That didn't mean anything to them. The early part of the southern manufacturing climate was [based on] personal relationships, a lot of that. It still is today, but it's a little different the way we do business today. The western part of the state was more relaxed. We had a million square of space up there. We had never more than four hundred exhibitors. In the '70s we had probably 1300 exhibitors. There were still parties at Mr. Burnhart's house. There were still parties at the Broyhill's. But, times were changing. The buyers weren't interested in making those long journeys. People were telling those people up there it was too far to go. “We can't go up there.” They also were finding that they had about a two-day Market up there. Big dealers would come up there and stay a couple of days, and then they would come down here and they wouldn't see them again.
There was an emotionally wrenching decision that many of those manufacturers had to make. Did they give up these wonderful factory showrooms, that they owned, that were across the street from their offices? They always could sleep in their own bed at night during Market. Did they give those up to come down to High Point or Thomasville? Where strategically could they find themselves located? Location [was] important. Many of the manufacturers were stockholders in the infrastructure. They owned hotels. They owned portions of stock held buildings in Hickory. I don't remember exactly who precipitated it, but I think it was probably a number of decisions that happened very quickly when Broyhill announced they were leaving. The Lane Company closed all of its divisions up there, Century, then Burnhart.
This part of the Market -- the eastern part of the Market -- was fully aware of the thought process that was going on in the west because those big exhibitors were chatting with landlords and developers down here. Bob Gruenburg, brilliant businessman that he was, decided he would build the Design Center. It's not the last building that's been built in that complement, but it was built to accommodate this demand that was coming from the west. All of those western exhibitors didn't choose to go in that building. Market Square was being developed at the same time. Market Square was a little before its time.
We had all been to Ghirardelli. We all knew what an old factory could look like if it were rehabilitated. We'd been to San Francisco, again, because you travel where you want to go. We'd been to San Francisco, and we'd seen how that can work. We didn't know that it could work here. The visionaries that were going to make that work, hoped it would. In the South, there weren't many of these factory redos. There were plenty of factories that could be redone, but there hadn't been any major ones. This city had no reason that was economically feasible to rehabilitate 500,000 square feet of factory in their central business district. It took the Market being here to provide the validity for the project. Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham, all of those cities have sat with vacant factories in their central business district for years when some industry changes the way it does business. This city has this wonderful event. The Market Square concept was being put together. Some rehabilitation was being done, but I think a lot of people were looking at it like, "I don't know about that now.'
JM: [Was it] too big of a bite?
RB: Yeah. Bob Gruenburg was over here, busy building the Design Center to take the sting out of Market Square. These landlords are big competitors. When Century signed as an anchor tenant for Market Square, and Market Square had been open--. Century didn't come down here and open with them. Century Furniture Company came down and said, “This will be where our showroom will be.” Century is as sophisticated, as design conscious, as image conscious as any company you'll find. They're going to go on the top floor of an old factory building [in which] the roof leaks and all the water pipes and all the utilities are hanging up there in the ceiling, and the floors squeak. It's not this House and Garden sterile showroom environment they've had and that everybody else had. That's when Market Square caught on. Now the owners may differ with that perspective. When Century came, that's when--. If you talk to Jake, I think Jake will agree that Century then put that stamp of credibility [on Market Square]. “We can handle the environment. It's not the way we've done business in the past. It's not the way this Market has done business in the past. It's probably not the way the south had done business in the past. But we're going to try it.” They tapped in again to that history that interests me and had that building complex put on the National Registry of Historic Places. They went through the Tax Act program. It, I'm sure, remains the largest Tax Act project in North Carolina and maybe in parts of the south.
JM: I’m sorry. I don’t understand those implications. [Tell me about] the Tax Act.
RB: The federal government will give you tax credits -- real tax dollar credits -- if you will rehabilitate for adaptive use a National Register of Historic Places building. They have oversight through the state Historic Preservation Offices as to how its done, what has to be saved, how it's looked after, all those things. Then you get twenty percent.