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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Underdown family furniture companies succeed under Parks Underdown

Pete Underdown gives a brief history of the furniture and paper companies that his family operated. He attributes its success to the supervision, ideas, and salesmanship of Parks Underdown.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. 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 company's kind of old. It started sometime during World War II- I'm not exactly sure of the date-in a real small brick building down on First Street SE. SW, excuse me. It's not the only company that has grown greatly that started down there. M.D.I. also started right in the back of that brick building that Hickory Springs started in.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
The same building?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Well, they were attached to each other.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
And this is M.D.I., Merchants' Distributors?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Merchants' Distributors Incorporated. And they were a real small outfit also at that time, but the main business of Hickory Springs at that particular time was making coil springs-and these are ones that you tie with your hand for upholstered goods-and Marshall units, which were little springs in little cloth bags that were all sewn together to make like a BeautyRest mattress. They used to advertise all the time that that was what it was, and these were used primarily in cushions, loose cushions in chairs like we used to have. All of them had cushions in them back then. And I've been trying to think for two days, and usually it always comes to me about midnight the night before that I need to know [Laughter] what the name of the guy that I replaced later who was running the plant at that time.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
I have some names. Maybe one of them will ring a bell, some people I wanted to ask you about. A.J. Horton.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
A.J. Horton's the very gentleman. He was a spring expert, came here to Hickory from High Point. Parks recruited him down there somewhere on some of his trips, but he came and he was the one that told them what they needed to do and was kind of the engineer of the thing to start with and he was the manager of the springs plant for Parks. At that particular time, the spring plant was a real minor part of the holdings that Parks and his partners had. There were seven of them. About the time he started the spring company, his production of furniture was the greatest of any place around here. Actually producing more furniture than Broyhill Furniture, producing and selling more furniture than Broyhill Furniture in Lenoir at that time.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Really? And this was-?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
About 1945, sometime along about then.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Was this the Queen Anne Furniture Shop? I have some different names that I've come across, and if you can help me sort them out-. There are the paper companies. I have Hickory Furniture Shop and Better Built Bedding and Queen Anne Furniture Factory and then Hudson Furniture.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
They had a furniture plant in Hudson, located where the [unclear] market lot is right now. It burned down in about 1949, '50, something like that. They also had a major furniture factory in Granite Falls, the building that Koehler Campbell piano plant was later located in after he kind of got out of the furniture business and sold the building.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
So that was Parks's main furniture factory?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Well, that was a sideline with him too. Lenoir Pad and Paper Company was his lifeline. He started out as a salesman with Lenoir Pad and Paper Company, sometime right after he got married, and he sold for them for a long time. In fact, when he died he was still their main salesman. They're still of course part of Hickory Springs now. They also had Sherrill Furniture.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
S-H-E-R-R-I-L-L?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
It's a big outfit now.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
So he was in that.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
He was half owner, a little over half owner. He owned a majority of the stock in Sherrill Furniture. He was the majority stock holder in Newton Furniture, also had a furniture plant down at Conover. I can't even remember the name of it. Paper was awfully hard to get back in those days, but there was a salesman for International Paper Company, and he went into the furniture business in Conover, and it's now a big-name furniture company. I can't even remember what it is now, but back then they had their names kind of combined in it. It was a good-producing furniture outlet. I went down and inventoried it one time when I was here, and they had the inventory at that time worth about forty or fifty thousand dollars, which was about six months' production for most of these other plants back then. Because you could buy a suite of furniture for about seventy-five to a hundred and fifty dollars, somewhere in that neighborhood, a complete bedroom with about four pieces [unclear] or a dining room suite with six chairs, a buffet, a server, a table and a china cabinet. You could buy those quite cheap. In fact I've still got one at home.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
From that company?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
No. The one I've got I made at Bernhardt Furniture Company myself as a sample. We handmade all the samples, and I at one time was one of the people that could do that kind of work. I made samples down there. And I think I paid about two hundred and seventy-five dollars back then for a suite that now would cost you from Bernhardt's-not as good as this one now, understand-but would cost you fifteen, sixteen thousand dollars. And that's about how much furniture's gone up in my lifetime. But he was in it in a big way.