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Monday, July 20, 2015

Kitty's Story

Over this past weekend, my husband and I went out to dinner with some good friends.  At some point in the conversation, I was asked about my childhood and why I was drawn to design and furniture.  After sharing my story with Kristen, and husband Erik, they encouraged me to make my story known.  So in light of our conversation, here it is!
I am no stranger to a furniture store.  I am not sure my dad originally planned to sell furniture, but that is the way it ended up.  He purchased a small hardware store named Gambles, from his father, in
Stone's Unfinished Furniture
downtown Northville, MI, at the young age of 20.   He knew the business well because he had been working there since he was 9 years old!  He spent several years growing a thriving business in this small town in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, but this was no ordinary hardware store!  It sold everything from nails to toys to furniture to gumballs.  Gumballs?  Well, that's the only part I remember because I was very young at the time, but there was an old gumball machine at the bottom of the stairs and I definitely had my fair share!  The photo above is of myself (the baby) and my 3 sisters in front of Gambles turned Stone's Unfinished Furniture Store.  As for the furniture, these were the unfinished pine pieces that you might still find here and there, if you really hunt!  Nowadays everything has been painted, at least twice, and you would never know what it originally looked like under all that paint.  So like I said, I'm not sure my dad planned to sell furniture, but it took off fast, so he moved from his small Main St. location, just down the road near the Ford plant.  This was a much larger store and filled with furniture and some accessories (sound familiar?).  Coincidentally, it was 10,000 sf and previously a grocery store (my Portage Rd. location is 10,000 sf and was previously a grocery store!).
My Dad
As business grew, my dad expanded once again.  He built and opened a huge store in Ann Arbor, Michigan,  and then another in Livonia, Michigan.  Now called, The Village Woodshop, he began making custom furniture out of solid oak.  In addition to his custom pieces, he also continued to carry the unfinished pine furniture that catapulted him into the furniture business in the first place.  This is where my memories kick in!  That pine furniture arrived in large cardboard boxes which were stored in the basement of the building until needed for the showroom floor.  A large conveyor belt carried the furniture (and my sisters and I) up the stairs all day long.  But before the furniture made its way up the belt, it was the starring role in our great game of mazes and tunnels!  We would shove, push and lift those boxes into place to make endless paths and tunnels throughout that entire basement.  Then we would strap on our rollerskates and cruise through our mazes for hours on end.  So when I tell people I grew up in a furniture store, I really did!  It wasn't all fun and games, though.  There came a point when my sisters and I were old enough to work (ugh!).  I'm not sure what my older siblings did, but I spent my days handing out brochures to customers and dusting with a tack cloth.  Hey, now I know why I hate those sticky, yellow cloths!
My Mom
Anyway, it made summers fly by and kept us out of trouble (at least that's what my parents think!).  So where did the decorating come in?  That would be my mom.  The Village Woodshop stood out from the rest because of the way the furniture was arranged and displayed.  Hmmm...I always wondered where I inherited that trait!  She managed to talk my dad into building walls in the Livonia store that would represent rooms in your home.  She then decked them out into family rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms.  This helped the customers imagine this furniture in their own home.  At that time, most furniture stores were still lining up all the beds in one area, tables in another, etc.  Custom furniture sales increased, so eventually he eliminated all the pine furniture and just created his own solid oak pieces.  By this time I was in my teen years, so I don't remember missing the furniture boxes in the basement, but it sure is one of my favorite childhood memories!  After two more moves, he finally landed in Plymouth, Michigan.  This was a much smaller showroom with a good-sized woodshop.  To this day, whenever I smell fresh sawdust, it brings me right back to that woodshop!  He continued to build custom oak furniture for many years until he retired from it and headed south to relax and enjoy life.  My parents have since returned to the Detroit area and, believe it or not, my dad is back to making furniture again and my mom is back to decorating!  Just last week, in fact, they opened a booth in my Portage Rd. location.  Sitting in what used to be "Kitty's Corner", is a beautiful cottage booth filled with painted furniture, custom-built pieces and everything else pretty that you need to finish off a room.  Talk about full circle!
My parents booth at KalamazooKitty
Whew!  That was a lot of years covered in just a few paragraphs, but it is how furniture and furniture stores became ingrained in my very being. One of my three sisters now joins in the fun of hunting and gathering treasures, but I am the only one who followed directly in the footsteps of my parents.  I never realized that rollerskating and dusting would lead me to where I am today, but history tells it all.  I am now in the process of trying to pass these experiences on to my own children.  If you flash back to my blog about the beginning of KalamazooKitty, you will see the wide open space of the Portage Rd. location. 
That was the very roller rink, bike track and ripstick arena that my kids called their own (until it filled up with furniture...and too fast in their opinion!).  We have since enjoyed family Easter egg hunts at both locations, birthday parties and many games of hide-and-go seek.  You will often see my babies (they really aren't babies anymore, but that's what I call them) at both locations, especially during the summer.  My 7 year-old loves helping at the register, my thirteen year old is dabbling in decorating and design planning, and my 15 year old helps move furniture around.  So maybe, just maybe, the furniture bug will rub off on one of them!  If nothing else, they will have fond memories of playing at the stores and helping customers.
The back door of Gamble's with my 3 sisters in 2014
This final photo is of myself and my sisters, at what used to be Gambles.  We returned there last year and took a trip down memory lane with all of our own children in tow.  Let's just say it wasn't how I remembered it, but I was a baby after all!  So next time you swing into the stores and see unusually young "employees" hanging around, tell them to get back to work, or at least get back to making memories!

This is from Kalamazoo...to you!


5 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your story!

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  2. Love your stores and wish you continued success! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. How neat that your parents now have a booth in your store-I will have to come check it out!

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  4. Very nice story. Family is every thing, it make for a good foundation and many memories. And I love your stores they are so cozy and welcoming. Thanks for all your hard work and may you have many years of good family business fun

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  5. awesome story! all the best!

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