A few months back, when we reported on Furniture Lounge’s plans to move from their downtown Urbana storefront to their current digs in downtown St. Joseph, I let out a heavy sigh at the dining room table in our home in Champaign.
After all, it had happened again.
The “it” to which I am referring is the closing up of our cherished downtown storefronts, especially those where a fella or lady could exhaust an hour just looking around. Window shopping and browsing has become a thing of the past in our towns, and in towns like ours all over the country. Honestly, ask yourself — how long could you spend in any of our three downtowns, simply just walking about and popping in and out of stores?
So, I lament the fact that Furniture Lounge has moved to St. Joseph. After all, in our house alone, my feet are currently resting on a 1960s teak coffee table purchased from said store. Across the room, a vintage 1950s light up globe illuminates the corner of the living room. Beyond the window, outside, there is a set of lovely cast iron furniture that seems as though it was made special for our backyard. And in our basement, an old, massive, wooden HiFi with built in speakers sits idle, begging to be used. One day, I promise that I am going to make that space into a poker and board game room, make Sidecars or Old Fashioneds for my pals, and talk about the days of old. I am even gonna buy a pinball machine. That’s the goal.
Needless to say, since Scott and Amanda first opened their doors in the early aughts, I dug their motif. Personally, I was (and still am) a big fan of their work. They scour the estate sales, garage sales, fire sales, all of it — and pick up the good stuff, refurbish it if need be, and resell it to the community at reasonable prices.
But the writing is on the wall — not just locally — natiowide, and worldwide, too. One doesn’t much need four walls and a display window to sell goods like these when the biggest one of all is at the whim of our fingertips. eBay selling and buying makes more sense each and every year, and as the world continues its inevitable progression / digression towards a super-global economic system and a one-type-only currency, we’re in for a lot more of it and a lot less of what a place like Furniture Lounge brings with it. Eventually, it might even be hard for chain stores like Best Buy or Dick’s or Pier One to remain in business. In the end, it won’t make good sense financially.
And so, here we are. It’s 2010, and the days of simply stopping in to a local boutique store like Furniture Lounge are truly going the way of the Dodo. I don’t see us getting something like that back. There is, however, a silver lining. Fortunately for us all, St. Joseph is right down the road; just 15 minutes east on I-74 and you can still enjoy an afternoon browsing around one of the best vintage and retro furniture stores you’d ever find.
Ultimately, the decision to move out of their Urbana space was an easy one. Rent is significantly cheaper, and despite the potential sacrifice of heavier walk-by traffic (especially with Mirabelle next door — same clientele), you can’t blame them for making the move. A town like St. Joseph will fully embrace this store, even with limited business hours, and there will likely be a groundswell of support to rival Champaign-Urbana when put in a relative context. Per capita, there might even be more interest in unique and vintage furniture in a town where the average income is almost double that of Urbana, and is still significantly higher than Champaign. According to wikipedia, the average St. Joseph household is raking in over $53K per year, versus just $32K in Champaign and $27K in Urbana.
A perfect example of this type of phenomenon is Any Frequency (seen left), a record shop owned by former Record Service employee-turned-owner who decided that the best place for him to set up shop would be in Monticello as opposed to C-U. On a number of occasions, I’ve asked him why not C-U, and he’s stated very clearly — though I am absolutely paraphrasing here — a number of reasons:
“Things are well where I am. The high school kids look to me in a town like this one. I have a true niche here in (Monticello) as opposed to Champaign, where there are not only great local record stores like Parasol and Exile on Main St., but box stores like Borders and Best Buy and three Wal-marts. Why try to compete with that? Plus, it’s absolutely affordable. Downtown rents in places like C-U are just too high to be able to sustain with a business like this one.”
When Amanda McWilliams, co-owner of Furniture Lounge, took a moment out of her busy day to let me know how things are going out east in the little village on the way to Danville, her answers were eerily similar to those of Tim’s. And I can truly start to see why they made the decision they did.
Smile Politely: What was it, ultimately, that made you move from your store front in Urbana?
Amanda McWilliams: Since we had decided to do more online sales, we were looking for a larger “warehouse” space. However, a large retail spot became available in Saint Joseph, right around the corner from where we live, so we couldn’t pass it up. So, we decided to keep a store front and keep limited hours and by appointment.
SP: Do you think that having a storefront in St. Joseph will bring you any business? Or will it just serve as a nice central location for area folks to come check out your goods?
AM: Like I stated, we are focused more on internet sales, and also advertise through our website and craigslist. If someone sees something they want to come look at, they can visit us during our hours (Sunday & Monday 12–4) or by appointment. Since we live right around the corner we are able to meet folks almost anytime they can get here. It’s worked out great!
SP: You’ve now been located in three downtowns in the area. Similarities? Major differences?
AM: The best walk-by traffic: Urbana. The best college clientele: Champaign. The cheapest RENT: Saint Joseph.
SP: Of all the aspects of your job, what do you enjoy the most? The least?
AM: I get to shop for a living and since I love to travel, it’s a win/win situation! We have met some great people and seen some amazing sights. Some of our best friends have been made through them coming in our store. We consider ourselves very lucky. However, although I love what I do, it’s a lot of hard work, and for those of you that own your own business — know it’s 24/7. It doesn’t end and you don’t stop thinking about it at 5 p.m. There moments where you just want to give up, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else!
SP: How are the restaurants in downtown St. Joseph? Anything worth making the drive for?
AM: There are 4 other antique stores in Saint Joseph, so we blend in nicely. Before we moved here it used to be a shopping destination for us. As far as restaurants: 3 pizza shops, a Mexican restaurant, a Greek cafe and a wine store.
Furniture Lounge is located at 225 E Lincoln St Joseph, IL 61873