For what was an unlikely situation, the North Carolina Furniture Capital of America’s Story is a spectacle that in today’s perspective of the furniture capital of America it appears to just be the norm.The migration of designers, editors, buyers, and furniture retailer and manufacturer executives to High Point Market each year, during the months of April and October, might seem like a routine meeting or necessary staple in the North Carolina Furniture world. But how did this gathering become so frequented and well-known?
North Carolina Furniture Gets On The Map
The position the North Carolina Furniture Capital of America has assumed was greatly impacted by its geographic location on the North Carolina Railroad constructed in 1859. However in its feat of popularity, High Point Market becoming the furniture capital of America is still quite a story of determination and dedication against the odds.
High Point’s ability to achieve its well-earned title required time, fortune, and a somewhat stubborn insistence. During the late 19th century, the Piedmont area boasted a healthy regional furniture business, a product of the abundance of wood in the surrounding woods and of their new capability for transportation and labor afforded by the new Southern Railway.
March 1, 1909 marks the date of the opening of the Southern Furniture Market, which at the time was a mash-up of the High Point Furniture Exposition Company and the Furniture Manufacturers Exposition Company. Although the founders expected it to be a biannual marketplace, the number of attendees in the very first show weren’t sufficient to justify it and the marketplace became a yearly occurrence.
The Odds Are Stacked High
The North Carolina furniture industry leaders were persistent, despite the thought that maybe it was the location holding back marketplace’s success. The trade magazine of the day insisted on the production of a big showroom to correspond with the high number of factories and quantity of businesses in the town. When it seemed like the market could gain some grip, World War I broke out in Europe and plans were placed on hold.
Although the war stopped markets and sales to the North Carolina Furniture producers of the High Point area, the shift to fulfilling orders for the war effort had a silver lining: The large demand from the government officials forced factories to enhance their quality criteria and optimize their output. From the time the war finished and customers were prepared to purchase more generously again, factories were working in full force, making for the perfect situation for an North Carolina Furniture exposition centre.
A Proclamation Is Made
Back in 1919, the High Point Enterprise declared their plans, releasing a bold statement, “High Point aspires to become the furniture marketplace on this continent.”
And a bold claim it was because at that time Grand Rapids held the title of America’s furniture capital. In 1920, the Southern Furniture Exposition Building opened for its first North Carolina furniture show, soon after the year-and-a-half-long, $1 million building project was completed. Then remarkably that year, the show’s attendance numbered in the 700s, together with traffic out of 100 cities. Between some 150 furniture retailers and manufacturers, the series saw more than $2 million in earnings. With credit for this crushing victory going to the man who headed the construction project, Charles F. Long, a true hometown hero and a community member to be remembered for years to come.
One review of the show highlighted to the Furniture World the prediction that “the Southern Show will likely excel any current market, for it is well-known among all furniture dealers that southern factories make a line of furniture that’s not replicated elsewhere also it’s peculiarly adapted to the demands of the current times.”
The Roaring Success Is Muted
Obviously, even the savviest of company leaders could not have protected the business from what would occur under a decade following the new centre’s unveiling. Together with the financial devastation of the Great Depression, furniture earnings dropped to half of their 1920s numbers. Sales improved slightly, but the marketplace was hit with a more significant setback in 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In 1942, once again the Exposition Center and supporting factories were committed to the war effort. Generation was, paradoxically, at an all-time high, but not one piece of the output was sellable merchandise.
At the time immediately after World War II, the town and the North Carolina furniture business eventually found the culmination of its own years of attempts pay off – exponentially. From the booming postwar economy, more Americans than ever were purchasing houses and emerging out of the thriftiness of wartime to invest with abandon on items to fill their homes and properties.
Dedication and Determination Pays Off
In the very first market following the war, in January 1947, an astonishing 50,000 plus buyers flocked on High Street, spending $5 billion on accessories and furnishings for more than 2,500 shops across the spend-happy nation. North Carolina produced furniture was finally going nationwide, and by the year 1955 nearly 46 years after the first attempt of the show, a whopping 60% of furniture produced in America came from within a 125-mile radius of High Point, North Carolina.
In the years after, the town expanded the first exposition center and added several additional market spaces. Although the market has seen its own share of changes –particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 downturn –High Point has preserved its high standing as the North Carolina furniture capital of America. Although the underdog city might have staved off additional, bigger metropolises to become the furniture capital of America, its own dangers are much wider.
With competition from e-commerce platforms that offer cheap, quick-turnaround furniture created overseas, the town’s producers have needed to play catch-up. The current return to admiration for American Manufactured may only swing the pendulum straight back into High Point’s favor. This town’s story is evidence that history does not always have to come at the cost of innovation –as long as you are able to stay the course and work hard.