Metalwork cranes and mechanical tin men greet customers at Columbia’s Bohemian Home furniture and art store, located at 2720 Devine St.
Vintage watches wait behind glass, clocks with animal faces keep time, lamps and rugs and paintings collected over decades abound. On nearly every surface, bright yellow stickers declare “Sale!”
Bruce Schultze, 73, has run the store for half a century, and this is the first storewide sale he’s ever held. He and his partner Denise Cellier need everything to go.
After 48 years, Bohemian Home is closing its doors.
In its first iteration, Bohemian Home sold women’s clothes and pottery. Schultze worked for the original owners, later buying the store from them. It was one of the first high-end retailers to take a chance on Devine Street.
Schultze credits the store and a few others on the street with kick-starting the boutique fashion trend that has taken over the corridor since.
“When we moved here 48 years ago, it was all the old school businesses,” he said. There was a Piggly Wiggly down the street and a hardware store across the way, but there was nothing like what Bohemian Home was trying to do.
Always a collector, Schutlze took the opportunity of having his own store to curate a space full of things he loved. Wood, pottery, jewelry — he gravitated toward anything with a personality.
Selling clothes became something to support buying more art. It kept bread on the table but it wasn’t what they truly loved. Eventually they added furniture to the mix, and things evolved from there.
“I started to seek out things that you wouldn’t see anywhere else,” Schultze said. “I quickly kind of found out that what was more unique in the furniture and accessory business was more cutting-edge design.”
He watched New York City trade shows for inspiration. Sometimes he’d look at 1,000 different versions of a similar item to find the one that really spoke to him.
He admits it was hard to find his customers at first, and to a degree it’s remained that way.
“For years, a lot of stuff that we sold wasn’t functional,” Schultze said. “People actually weren’t that big of collectors of just buying artwork, they were more prone to buy things that would work as something else.”
A lamp, a chair, a sofa. So Schultze started looking for things that could be functional but that had their own unique beauty as well.
He developed an affinity for ornate lamps, and later became known for expensive, high-end chairs.
Schultze acknowledges Bohemian Home has not been for the faint of heart.
Among his wares are $300 lamps and $3,500 recliners, along with original art pieces, fine jewelry and vintage decor all priced accordingly. Some items in the store have been there for decades, just waiting for the right customer.
Perhaps half the people who walk through the front door turn around immediately and walk out, he said with a laugh. But there have always been a few who enter and find an oasis in the original and peculiar items Schultze has curated.
“It really turned out and ended up being a store about what I would go and find that I personally loved,” he said.
The store’s eccentricity became a selling point for many.
“I personally will really miss Denise and Bruce,” said Alice Perritt, owner of House of Frames and Paintings on Devine Street. “You can’t go to Asheville or New York or Paris and find another store like it.”
When she encounters visitors, she always encourages them to visit Bohemian Home.
The store has had to make some adjustments over the years, but overall they’ve managed to find their niche. It’s been a successful business model for half a century, helping them survive the recession in 2008, and the initial turmoil of the pandemic.
But as the area changes and rents increase, they would have to dramatically change in order to survive, Schultze said. Rather than re-sign a lease, they’re choosing to retire.
When their doors officially close at the end of August, Schultze will inevitably take some of his favorite pieces home with him. He said he’d just as happily stay running the shop forever, but he’s also looking forward to trying something new.
“You always hear that notion, if you love what you’re doing you’ll never work a day in your life. That was my case,” he said.