After joking about it in commercials for years, maybe H&H Furniture owner Mark Petersen really can be a coach potato after his longtime store in downtown Yakima closes.
Petersen kidded about that on Monday as he discussed his family’s 54 years in the furniture business in the H&H showroom at 213 W. Yakima Ave. He will have plenty to keep him busy over the next few months as the store begins a liquidation sale Thursday.
While Petersen took over his parents’ furniture store in the 1980s, the recent struggle through the COVID pandemic, inflation and the impact of the internet and other factors on the furniture industry convinced him it’s time to close H&H.
“I haven’t really dealt with an inflationary period. The last time was back in the early 1980s, when I was in college,” he said. “The inflation now is causing all the discretionary income to go to shelter, food and fuel. And I deal with (customers’) discretionary income.
“So my plan is to try to have a soft landing instead of a crash landing,” Petersen added. “That’s one of the factors that are going into my decision.”
Petersen’s parents, Howard and Joyce Roy, began H&H in 1969 as a furniture auction near the fairgrounds. Their business grew and it moved to the intersection of 48th Avenue and Tieton Drive, at the site of the former Jack-Sons Sports Bar.
The store moved to its downtown location in the 1970s and has been there since, Petersen said.
“When I took over in 1988, we would not only sell furniture, but we had a small rental program,” he said. “We expanded that and grew quite a bit – we were up in Ellensburg, Cle Elum, Toppenish and Sunnyside. Now everything’s closed except in Yakima and that’s the next one on the list.”
Petersen earned a marketing degree in college and was asked to help his parents close out the business in the 1980s.
“I was just supposedly here to help close it out, but I saw the potential of the rental business. That ended up taking over most of the business over the years,” he said. “I quickly found out that I needed to learn more and ended up being on the national board of directors’ buying committees and so forth. I really got into the industry.”
Like many retail segments, the furniture business became more consolidated and dominated by regional and national chains owned by corporations over time.
The internet and COVID
Petersen believes an increase in online commerce and the various economic impacts of the COVID pandemic were factors affecting both his store and the longtime family-owned Fitterer’s Furniture in Ellensburg, which closed last year.
“The internet has without a doubt changed things. And I think what accelerated its impact, also beyond a doubt, was COVID, where people couldn’t come out,” he said.
Unlike previous generations, where family-owned businesses either had a succession plan or another community member willing to buy it, very few investors are willing to step forward today, Petersen said.
“In my case my kids are in college, they’re all doing well, there’s not an interest there to take over the stores,” Petersen said. “If you think of the restaurants that have closed, like Gasperetti’s, or Fitterer’s too, people are not buying local businesses.
“The furniture stores, as I went around the country to all the various markets and talked to people and manufacturers and looking at the trends, we’re in a hard, rolling recession in the furniture industry. Looking at what’s coming down the pike – not that it hasn’t been a rocky road in the last couple of years – I foresee things getting worse.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, while many people bought other items online, customers still wanted to touch, see and try out furniture in person, Petersen said. “They need to test drive it.”
The pandemic struck three years ago and kept people home and temporarily closed “nonessential” businesses. And when stores reopened and demand for products surged, supply chain issues prevented appliances and other products from reaching H&H and other small businesses, Petersen said.
“We used to do a lot of appliances, but appliances were almost destroyed during the supply chain issue. It was ridiculous. You could not get things,” he said. “It went from about $2,500 for a furniture (shipping) container to $25,000, and you can’t do that as a smaller operator. You must be of scale. So that was really hurting mom-and-pop retailers all throughout the country.”
Selling off furniture, buildings
At one time, H&H Furniture had several thousand customers and more than two dozen employees. That has gradually changed as stores closed, with the Toppenish store closing in February 2022. Petersen said the inventory and rental accounts of that store were consolidated at the Yakima location.
Beginning Thursday, everything at the Yakima location will be sold: the furniture on display at 213 W. Yakima Ave., the furniture stored next door at 211 W. Yakima Ave. and the brick building which houses both.
The buildings is divided into two 18,000 square foot retail sites, each with two stories and a basement, Petersen said.
Unlike corporately-owned stores which hire an outside company to conduct liquidation sales, Petersen is running it himself, and he estimates everything will be gone by early June.
Some furniture items which he ordered and remain “in the shipping pipeline” have not yet arrived in Yakima, and those will be sold off as they arrive.
Technically, H&H is not “going out of business” in the next 60 days because it will still service existing rental contracts, Petersen said.
Plenty of TVs, other appliances and bed and mattress sets remain in the Yakima store, and those are expected to sell quickly. But those aren’t the only popular furniture items, Petersen said.
“Over the years, we have a five-drawer chest and it’s called The Big Chester. I think they might be in every household in Yakima, we have sold so many,” he added.
“We have done so many TVs and washers and dryers, it’s incredible numbers. Thousands of sets. If a washer or dryer goes out, you need one. If a TV goes out, you’re going to get a TV, you’re not going to go without it.”
Petersen said he will miss dealing with the public in the Yakima Valley. As a result of H&H’s longevity, he has served people whose children and grandchildren became customers.
“One of the aspects that’s a little different in the rent-to-own industry, we sometimes dealt with people who had real problems financially,” he said. “Where other people were saying no to them, we would say yes, so we made some people very happy over the years who just couldn’t get nice things.”
Petersen is unsure about his own plans and possible business ventures.
“We’ll see what happens. Until the first of the year, I’m just going to enjoy the ride. It’s been a helluva a fun ride so far. And it’s nice going out on my own terms,” he said.