Home sales were soaring in 2006 when Charles Shealy decided to retire and sell Irmo’s Home Furniture store to his son, the store’s third-generation owner.
Shealy’s timing could not have been worse.
Most Americans were blindsided by the Great Recession’s tanking economy, which forced Shealy’s son out of business.
But the doors have reopened at Home Furniture, a Lake Murray Boulevard staple, as Shealy has come out of retirement to bring life back to the family business. This time, however, the economy has seen home sales stabilize.
“It was difficult,” Shealy said. But, “I still think I’ve got some good years left.”
Within 24 months of Shealy selling the business to his son, the economy sank to the lowest level experienced by any of the three generations of Home Furniture owners.
Home sales in the Midlands dropped nearly in half – with other parts of the state and country faring even worse. Furniture stores nationwide were forced into bankruptcy as consumers stopped buying furniture – and much of anything else.
Shealy’s son, Greg, held on until late 2010 before breaking the news to his dad that the store that his grandfather and father bought in 1973 would have to close. The men got busy liquidating inventory, filing paperwork and saying farewell to longtime customers, closing up shop almost 37 years to the day after Charles Shealy Sr. and Charles Shealy Jr. bought the business.
When the door was locked for the last time, Shealy knew he would have to re-enter the work force. His nest egg was gone.
But his entire work life had been spent at Home Furniture. It was the only job that felt natural. “Thirty-seven years of my life had been invested in this business,” he said.
So four months later – with his son in a new job – Shealy decided to reopen the store and go back to work full time, something he never thought he would do again.
“It was a gamble,” he said, adding the economy was struggling to recover. But, “I had an empty 14,000-square-foot building, and it needed to have something doing.”
Shealy has spent the past year restocking, getting the word out to customers and slowly building up the business. “It was a slow process,” Shealy said.
But the hard work is starting to pay off.
With a small but solid resurgence in home sales, Shealy said he has seen sales spike 20 percent in the past 90 days.
In many ways, Shealy is doing business the same way he always has – offering mainly American-made products and delivering them to area homes – a formula that worked well for decades.
But Shealy has made some changes to the store that he hopes will boost business, including bringing in an in-store designer, Sylvia Riggin, who can help customers put together rooms and match pieces, and setting up a new Serta mattress gallery.
As Midlands home sales continue to recover, Shealy hopes his business also will make a full comeback.
“People are realizing that we’re back,” he said.