DENNIS SEID

On Thursday, Behold Washington Furniture cut the ribbon on its new space at the Tupelo Furniture Market, a 19,000-square-foot showroom that more than tripled the size of Behold’s former showroom.

The upholstered furniture company has been growing nicely the past few years, having acquired Washington Furniture last year. And despite a fire that destroyed Washington’s plant in Pontotoc, a 400,000-square-foot warehouse should be finished in a couple months, with move-in expected in December.

The combined Behold Washington product line is now being shown in the new showroom, and buyers and dealers were clearly interested in what the company had to offer.

Over in Building III, Affordable Furniture saw several customers on Tuesday and more on Wednesday, and the Summer Tupelo Furniture Market didn’t even officially start until Thursday.

In Building IV, Melissa’s Mattress, which got its start last year, was drawing interest with its option to add a bed bug solution.

Pockets of activity at the market was a good thing to see for both market officials, and of course, the exhibitors at the market.

But there was plenty of empty space to be filled in market, which once had 2 million square feet nearly packed to the brim during its heyday of the early 2000s.

I remember when the market filled both the Mississippi Complex on the corner of Chesterville and Coley roads as well as the Tupelo complex at the Jackson/Coley intersection. That was 15 years ago, before the Great Recession hit, before Las Vegas opened its market, before High Point got its act together.

But there are fewer retailers today and fewer smaller companies that build furniture.

The Tupelo Furniture Market got its start when smaller upholstered manufacturers needed an affordable place to show off their lines. The market met their needs and as the economy bloomed with the housing market, it needed to expand.

And for a while, things were looking great.

Then came the recession and the housing crash and demand fell off. Companies like Lane, before being rescued by United a couple years ago, downsized quickly, closing plants and laying off thousands.

And companies like Ashley Furniture Industries, the largest furniture retailer and manufacturer in the world, also pulled out of Tupelo. Southern Motion, another key player, left the market a few years later.

Yet the Tupelo Furniture Market has soldiered on. Smaller companies still turn to Tupelo to show their wares affordably, because Vegas and High Point aren’t the solution for them.

Tupelo doesn’t have the national drawing power of Vegas or High Point, but it remains a strong regional market that still draws top 100 retailers.

“We’re going to be showing in Tupelo as long as the doors stay open for us,” one exhibitor said.

And FFO Home, one of the country’s top 50 largest furniture retailers, says Tupelo plays a critical role in its 68-store chain.

“It’s still very important to us,” he said. “We come here, we buy deals, find promotions that help us build traffic in our stores and to bring customers in and find good values for our customers to fill in their homes,” said Jay Peters, FFO’s executive vice president of merchandising.

“Everything is getting smaller, and unfortunately, this market has gotten smaller,” he said. “But it’s a great market to come to. We see it as a treasure hunt. We come here every time and we find something we can’t find anywhere else. And it doesn’t matter how small it might get, we’ll always come to Tupelo.”

Those are words that have to be encouraging for the market, which, despite its smaller presence, maintains an important role for the furniture industry in Northeast Mississippi.

» DENNIS SEID is the business editor for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.