SUMMERVILLE — Oftentimes when Green’s Furniture customers come into the store, they end up talking about old memories.
Whether it’s a story about the business’ early days or a customer asking about the current owners’ children, the store has history with a lot of people.
“They’re your family,” said Brenda Dieterich, who runs the store alongside her husband Don.
Green’s Furniture is a second-generation family business begun nearly 30 years ago with husband- and-wife duo Al and Geneva Green selling furniture in their backyard. It’s also one of many small local furniture businesses that had to rely on its routine customers to wade through the pandemic.
In the past year, many residents have spent more time at home than they likely ever have before. For furniture stores, this has meant seeing a wave of customers looking for something different to go in their homes.
At the same time, the businesses have also had to make significant adjustments to protect themselves and follow mandated guidelines. This ranged from delays in deliveries to making furniture sales from outside the front door.
“We just changed the way we did business,” said Ronnie Rittle, owner of Auction Charleston Antique Mall in Summerville.
Getting through a pandemic
The pandemic year was a challenging time for a lot of furniture businesses. Most saw delays with deliveries and filling orders for customers.
Green’s Furniture wasn’t unique in that regard. Some customers have had to wait months for furniture.
The Dieterichs said what helped them during that time was having people trust them. Because they are locally owned, they said it was easier for them to have one-on-one conversations explaining things to people.
The store recently has had more of a focus on a rustic farmhouse style with its furniture.
“That’s important because it’s very popular right now,” Don Dieterich said.
Many of their new customers connected with them after seeing furniture pieces in their friends’ homes, he said.
Rittle and his family own an antique mall in Summerville. Prior to the pandemic, the business would traditionally host live auctions for its furniture pieces.
They had to pause those live auctions to avoid having crowds of dozens of people in their indoor space. To adjust to that, Rittle said they just started storing more items in their mall area and selling them over the counter.
The most significant hiccup came when his wife and child tested positive for COVID-19.
“A week later I found out I had it,” he said.
They had to close the business while they quarantined. This meant losing out on money since Rittle said he chose not to charge his vendors who had booth spaces during the closing period.
“But our business really overall, we didn’t really suffer,” he said.
That was because many people were still choosing to support the business throughout the pandemic, he said.
Sherry Martschink is the owner of Antiques and Artisans Village with her husband Karl Duppstadt. The couple also had to pause their live auctions.
They switched to doing online auctions, which they said have been surprisingly successful.
Before the 2020 pandemic year, Duppstadt had spent more than 100 days in the hospital. So Martschink said at the height of the pandemic, they were also really strict about their mask-wearing policy.
Before adopting that policy, they would just meet customers at the door.
“We were just very careful,” she said.
The two started the business as a way to move out some of their extra furniture. Over the past year, Martschink said, she noticed customers reaching out to them doing the same thing.
Because people weren’t traveling out of town, Martschink said she believes people were looking for things to do. Rearranging their furniture was one of those easy-to-do activities, she said.
On the other side
In the past couple of months with vaccines being distributed, Green’s has started seeing quicker deliveries for furniture.
“It’s like Christmas,” Brenda Dieterich said. “We’re just happy to see furniture.”
The next step for the family business is to add an online shopping component. That was an idea they picked up on during the pandemic with more people inquiring about virtual options.
But ultimately, they said they want to continue being connected about the furniture they sell to people. This is especially important to them considering the business’ long history in the community.
“You want something that lasts a lifetime,” she said.
The business owners collectively said the pandemic has reminded them of how vital supporting local businesses is to their survival.
“They won’t exist if you don’t,” Rittle said.
Martschink agrees. It’s easier for a small business to struggle and not recover in comparison to larger franchise stores, she said.
With shopping for furniture locally, most of the owners agree that if people want something unique and strong that it’s the best option.
At the same time, Martschink also said that the money people spend in these local businesses stays in the community.