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Tupelo Furniture Market attracts 35,000 visitors

TUPELO — The Furniture Market is to Tupelo what the Olympics was to Atlanta. The difference is that the Olympics is a one-time financial boon, whereas the Tupelo Furniture Market happens twice each year.

The Tupelo Furniture Market, held each February and August, attracts more visitors than there are residents of Tupelo, population 34,000. The most recent market attracted 35,000 people, filling up restaurants, hotel rooms and many private homes.

“This has more economic impact than a Superbowl,” said V.M. Cleveland, CEO of the Tupelo Furniture Market. “The Superbowl is a one-day event. These people have to stay for five days of show.”

The recent market held in late August was the best ever, Cleveland said. Buyer attendance was up 10% with buyers coming from every state and 36 foreign countries.

“The mood of retailers attendees seemed to be upbeat,” Cleveland said. “They were purchasing furniture. We are hoping that is a good sign that the economy is recovering. A lot of exhibitors reported back to us that they had one of their best shows ever, which is also a good sign the economy is recovering.”

Greg Burks, president of Advantage Furniture in Tupelo, also said the mood of the buyers was very positive.

“We personally saw about a 10% increase in our attendance,” Burks said. “Dealers were very eager to see new product. All the major accounts were in attendance during the week, and were optimistic about what is going on this fall. I think we are about to turn the corner, and are hoping all the economic signs continue to remain positive. All the majors were in. That always tends to make a good market. Most of them were very optimistic on what is happening during the fall season.”

Greg Giachelli, vice president of economic development, Community Development Foundation, said it was a very good market for most of the exhibitors who participated from the Tupelo area.

“I think the fact they had a good market is important from the standpoint of the lull in the economy for the furniture market,” Giachelli said. “It is good from the employment standpoint because we have had a lot of short work weeks over the past few months, and are starting to see that coming back especially with small and medium-sized manufacturers going back to a 40-hour work week. That is very important

from the standpoint of having a good market.”

The Tupelo Furniture Market is the largest convention in Mississippi and the second largest trade show of its kind, even eclipsing similar shows in major metropolitan areas such as Birmingham, Dallas and Atlanta.

“We have more open arena convention space than anyone in the country because of the way our complex is designed,” Cleveland said. “We have about 600,000 square feet of open arena space. The average coliseum will probably have 60,000 square feet.”

The Tupelo Furniture Market has grown steadily in recent years and now includes 35.5 acres — 1,550,000-square feet — of convention space. A 300,000-square-foot expansion expected to be ready in time for the February show will make it 42.5 acres under one roof.

“Sometimes it amazes me we have this big an operation,” Cleveland said. “It started as an upholstery show for the local area. Tupelo is the upholstery manufacturing capital of world. We manufacture more upholstered furniture than anyone else in the world, both in the number of pieces and volume of dollars. In Northeast Mississippi, one-third of the population is employed in the furniture industry infrastructure. So, it was a natural place for the market to be.”

The general slowdown in the economy has affected furniture manufacturers. But Cleveland said housing starts are up, and the furniture industry is tied closely to the housing industry.

“Housing starts are up, which is beneficial to our industry,” Cleveland said. “When housing startups go up, it takes them three or four months to build, and then you have to put furniture in them. We keep waiting for that cycle to hit a big boom.”

How does a city of 34,000 host 35,000 visitors for a week? All hotels within a 50-mile radius are booked up. And many visitors are housed in private homes. People move out of their homes to rent them to attendees.

“We rent out over 1,000 private homes each market,” Cleveland said. “Some people choose to vacation that week, and let the attendees fund their vacation. Or, often younger people will stay with their parents and make enough money to make up to four house payments for the year. About $1.5 million goes to homeowners around the market twice a year.”

Even some singles in apartments benefit. They will double up with a friend in one apartment, and rent the other.

“There are all kinds of ways to win,” Cleveland said.

Linda Butler, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau, said all kinds of business get an extra boost from the Tupelo Furniture Market.

“Our airport is quite busy with corporate jets flying in and out,” Butler said. “Our caterers are quite busy that week. It is an exciting time. It’s a great deal for us. We love it. It is the second largest market in the country after High Point, N.C. There is more than attendance at similar shows at Dallas and L.A. We have much more in a hometown, relaxed atmosphere than when you go to larger cities.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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