Sunday, February 16, 2014

Oh where oh where have the Showrooms gone?!

Have you noticed how so many home furnishings buildings are practically empty - of showrooms and visitors?  This is due to three things - the Internet, the economy, and the demographics of potential clients.  Now, instead of the whoosh of fabric wings - you can hear a pin drop...

Growing up in the sixties, my parents hired an interior designer.  They chose a single practitioner who took them to upholsterers and cabinet-makers in Brooklyn, fabric jobbers on the Lower East Side, and small shops that represented furniture manufacturers from New England, the Mid-West and North Carolina.  


She made interesting lamps from antiques discovered at country auctions, and used family photos, memorabilia and collectibles to accessorize.  Specialty stores like Sloane, B. Altman and Bloomingdale's had wonderful furniture, and yes, fabric and lighting departments too, which are all gone, or are remnants of their former selves. They too, were her sources.

About that time, someone came up with the idea of consolidating sources into one building so designers could find everything in one place.  Then as competition grew fierce showroom owners and manufacturers spent more money in an effort to attract the trade.  This spawned a new industry where each manufacturer supported dozens of "retail-to-the-trade" showrooms across the country. Prices increased to pay rent and sales staff.  In an effort to boost sales to support these spaces they began importing everything from exotic trim to furniture and hand-made lighting.  An exploding assortment of home-furnishings attracted upper middle class and high end residential clients, corporate and hospitality buyers.

Soon, there were a dozen major showroom buildings within large metropolitan areas as well as smaller buildings in outlying cities.  The economy went up and down, but showrooms rode the waves knowing that eventually their clients would return.  And then... a triple whammy.  About the same time the economy dropped off the first cliff in 2008, a proliferation of Chinese goods hit the market.  At this same time consumers started buying home furnishings and antiques on the Internet.  They were scooped up like canned goods on Fresh Direct!  Who would have figured that someone would spend thousands on  a sofa they hadn't even sat in?

After all, a trade showroom is just a brick and mortar store in a high rise building.  Those who do survive offer merchandise and services that cannot be found elsewhere.  Two of my favorites are located in the NYDC amd are worth the trip!  They're family businesses; Korts & Knight, a jewel of a cabinet shop that can do anything, and Louis J. Solomon, whose custom upholstery can also be seen in their LI showroom.

The touchy-feely days are waning and demand for quality goods has vanished.  The expectation that everything will be delivered instantly is par for the course.  Many current end-users care not whether the bedspread coordinates with the draperies and certainly won't wait 12 weeks.  They want instant comfort, the latest electronics, and lowest price.

Film Center, Hell's Kitchen, NYC

Showrooms cannot survive without walk-in traffic.  Many have either consolidated, downsized, moved out or gone out.  Design professionals and their clients search sources on the net - and occasionally visit those that need to be seen in person.  This entails trips to Brooklyn, LIC, and other parts of the hinter land.

We've had more serious visitors to our new space in The Film Center Building in Hell's Kitchen than we did in the Design District or any design center.  We are now a hip and happy destination. appears that things have come full circle.