Smith family sells longtime furniture store to management
For over 40 years, the Smith family and their managers have worked side by side, maintaining the legacy of an 87-year old furniture and mattress store in Jacobus.
Now, Dallas Smith, the last of the Smith family to own the store, has decided to retire and turn over ownership of the company to its managers. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As of March, the store’s new owners are Mark Warner, controller; Garry Inners, warehouse manager; Bill Ream, store manager and Colleen Schaffner, director of advertising and buyer.
Despite the store’s rich history, Ream acknowledged that times have changed, including greater competition from online competitors such as Amazon. But he is confident that Smith Furniture can continue to draw in customers with its old-fashioned appeal.
“We know this is a business where customers still have the ability to come into our store and touch and feel the quality our products,” he said.
He also noted that store employees will still deliver furniture, set it up in customers’ homes, and quickly communicate with customers about any potential concerns. They develop a relationship with customers that is still valuable in the Internet age, he said.
“It’s not a service you find online,” he said.
Stephen Feinour, an attorney with the Harrisburg-based law firm Nauman Smith, said that family-owned businesses have finite life cycles, and there’s usually a point where no one in the next generation is willing to step up and take the reigns of a business. Selling a small, family-owned business to longtime managers can be an attractive option because the managers are familiar with the daily operations of the business and transition is more seamless. The decision is also comforting to the family members on a psychological level, as they can trust their employees to preserve the business’s traditional brand.
“It’s not just a business to them. It’s a part of their being and psyche,” he said.
However, loyalty to established traditions can be a double-edged sword, Feinour said, as some businesses need to innovate and change to survive in an evolving and increasingly competitive market.
Jacobus based-Smith Village Home Furnishings was once a go-to destination for travelers in search of a rest stop, food and fuel, as it was located on the main road from Harrisburg to Baltimore, Dallas said.
“It was a good place to stop off,” he said.
The business was started in 1931 by his father, Bruce V.Smith and his mother, Esther R. Glatfelter Smith. Bruce had been working in York as a butcher, but when he bought a gas station and general store from his grandfather, George Smith, his entrepreneurial abilities came into play.
Bruce began exploring and experimenting with a variety of retail ideas, buying up adjacent properties to the gas station that would eventually become known as Smith Village.
Over the subsequent decades, Bruce ventured into automobile sales, roadside cabin rentals, a grocery store and a department store.
His family also grew over that time, to include sons Donald, Dale and Dallas Smith, and daughters Susan and Anna Mae.
According to Bruce, the Smith children all took their turns working in the store throughout their childhood.
“I was working here probably when I was in middle school,” he said.
A major change to the landscape occurred in 1958 when the original department store burned to the ground.
“It was a complete loss,” Dallas said.
For almost a year, Dallas said, the family kept the business going by selling items from tents. However, it was not in survival mode for long, as a brand-new new department store was built the next year.
In 1967, another major change occurred when Bruce and Ethel relinquished control of the business to their two oldest sons, Dale and Donald.
The brothers would run the store until the 1980s, when Dallas became the president, and other family members managed the store in some capacity.
Ten years later, in 1977, Smith’s children were faced with a major decision as they watched their department store’s earnings dwindle in the face of competition from larger stores.
“We knew we really couldn’t compete with them,” Dallas said.
In order to survive, they changed their store’s format to focus exclusively on furniture. They also closed the gas station and car dealership, which were across the street. In 1984, they eliminated the hardware department and relocated their clearance center and outlet to the former auto sales building.
“We never regretted it,” he said.
By 2018, Dallas was the only Smith descendant still actively working in the store. When he decided to retire, he was left with a conundrum. It was difficult to generate interest in the store and he didn’t want to sell it to someone far from the community who wouldn’t appreciate its rich history.
He then realized that the best people to take ownership were the people he had worked alongside for decades: its managers. Dallas said he couldn’t think of a better choice than to the people who already understood the ins and outs of running the store.
“Each of them have been at Smith Village for over 20 years. They obviously got to know the place,” he said.
Ream said that while he couldn’t speak for his new co-owners, he knew he would be looking for another job if the store closed, so he decided to take the helm of a business that he already had experience running.
“We plan to continue the success that has been established,” Ream said