Shaivitz calls it quits The 100-year-old furniture business is closing its last store.

September 26, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

It was so hard to explain.

After more than 100 years in the furniture business, the mantle having been passed from one generation to the next, the Shaivitz family was calling it quits.

They closed their Annapolis store in August and, yesterday, cousins Jules and Buddy Shaivitz announced that later this year they will close their last remaining store, a 110,000-square-foot showroom and warehouse on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville.

The move will put to rest a Baltimore institution that began when deliveries were made by horse-drawn cart.

The closing had been rumored for nearly a week, even though the Shaivitzes had vowed not long ago to make their Catonsville location their last stand, and even began putting together plans for a revamped store and a new marketing strategy.

A news conference to announce the end was finally called yesterday, but the formality quickly dissolved into the melancholy recollections of men who were raised to believe the furniture business would be their lives.

"It's a very intense experience we're going through right now," said Buddy Shaivitz, 57. "It's both emotional and intense."

For Jules Shaivitz, 62, it was as important to announce the closing as it was to recall that when he was a child he joined the business as soon as "my eyes got as high as the brass door knob on the front of the door and I could help my grandfather open andclose it."

The recession was primarily responsible for bringing the company down, said Jules Shaivitz, president and general manager. The cousins saw August sales drop so dramatically that they concluded it was time to get out.

Understating an economic downturn that has ravaged the retail industry, Jules Shaivitz added, "the economy just wouldn't cooperate."

But before the Catonsville store closes, all customers with outstanding orders will have those orders completed and all creditors will be paid, he said. Approximately 33 employees will be let go, with severance.

"We want to make it clear that we are not in Chapter 11 or bankruptcy," he said.

While the recession proved critical, other pressures had been straining the company for years.

Also, the nature of furniture sales was changing.

Independent local stores were already giving way to large, national chains who could exploit huge inventories and efficient distribution methods by offering lower prices.

Also, consumers had found they could save on taxes by going out of state to purchase fine furnishings.

Once considered an upscale operation that offered personal service -- including salespeople trained in design who would visit customers' homes -- Shaivitz moved, apparently too late, toward the concept of lower price and aggressive merchandising.

Part of the idea was to eliminate purchase decisions that amounted toguesswork and replace them with consultant-driven decisions that would increase the company's stock of proven sellers.

Recasting the Catonsville store as a "home-improvement center" was part of the strategy to "get us out of the crowd," said Jules Shaivitz.

But they will never get to put the idea to the test.

Looking back yesterday, Shaivitz tried to explode the myth that furniture sales are driven by housing starts, an assumption that would have made them 1980s winners in a market that has enjoyed a unprecedented growth in residential housing.

Instead, he offered his theory of conspicuous consumption, which is based on the notion that having a room full of nice furniture just doesn't mean what it used to.

"There are a lot of empty rooms in the marketplace because there's no money for furniture," he said. "Buying a house, buying a car, even going on a vacation is first before people will buy furniture."

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