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Furniture retailers see opportunity in Baltimore market

When Kevin Luskin decided to fill a vast, long-vacant spot in a shopping center he owns in Towson, he envisioned a "category killer" store that would specialize in sofas and other seating — a store that would defy customers to leave without finding what they wanted.

Luskin and his brother, Cary, opened the Sofa Store in April in a retail center that was once the site of a Luskins, the now-defunct TV and appliance chain founded by their father, Jack Luskin, who is now retired.

The 50,000-square-foot showroom on Cromwell Bridge Road is filled with sofas, recliners and home accessories, and offers hundreds of options in fabric and design. Consumer interest has been so strong, and early sales so favorable, that the Luskin brothers — who also own the Big Screen Store chain — are eyeing other sites in the Baltimore market for one or two more locations, Kevin Luskin said Monday.

"This concept is working," Luskin said. "I think it's a great opportunity. The people remaining in the furniture business are survivors."

At a time when the housing market is still struggling to recover, Luskin and other home-furnishing merchants nevertheless see opportunity in the Baltimore area.

Atlanta-based Haverty Furniture planning a grand opening Thursday for a new location in the Towson Place shopping center, making it the chain's fourth Maryland store. HomeGoods, a home furnishings and decor chain owned by TheTJX Cos., plans to open a store in Towson in August. Last year, Ashley Furniture opened in a former Giant supermarket space in Bel Air's Tollgate Marketplace.

The 2008 housing market crash led to the closure of many furniture stores — so many that room was left for new ideas and new retail concepts, Luskin said.

Consumers today are looking for affordable ways to customize furniture in their living rooms and great rooms, Luskin said, adding that sales of those furnishings are nearly recession-proof. The idea for the store sprang from the success of The Big Screen Store, which he and his brother started in the mid-1990s and which now has 16 outlets in Maryland and Virginia.

At the Sofa Store — which filled a space left vacant by discount designer clothing store Syms three years ago — prices range from about $600 to several thousand dollars for a leather sofa. Customers can mix and match designs and choose from hundreds of upholstery fabrics.

On Monday morning, several customers conferred with salespeople, flipped through fabric samples and inspected the rugs.

"It's time for me — my sofas are done," said Janine King, a Pasadena resident in search of new living room furniture. She said she has been looking for nearly a year but hasn't found much selection in her color choice, navy blue.

King, who expected to just pop into the Sofa Store for a few minutes but ended up spending nearly an hour, said she was glad to see more than just the browns and earth tones she has found elsewhere.

"It's a big store with a lot of choices," King said.

After years that saw closures of numerous furniture retailers, among them Lauman's Home Furnishings, which closed in 2008 after 27 years in Perry Hall, sales in the sector have begun to turn around.

Sales at U.S. furniture and home furnishing stores jumped to nearly $8 billion last month from $7.1 billion in May 2011, according to estimates recently released by theU.S. Department of Commerce.

A separate survey of mall furniture retailers showed that sales per square foot grew nearly 11 percent, to $413 per square foot, in April compared to April 2011, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Havertys, a publicly traded, 117-store chain founded in 1885, said in April that its first-quarter sales rose more than 6 percent, to $163.6 million. The company's new Towson location, its fourth store in Maryland, drew more than 100 people on Saturday for its "soft" opening, said branch manager Jack Dupreay.

"These encouraging results are taking place in a continued difficult economic environment but are reflective of improving consumer sentiment," Clarence H. Smith, Havertys' president and CEO, said in a statement announcing Havertys' first-quarter sales results.

Consumers may not be furnishing large new homes at the rate they were during the housing boom, but they do want to freshen up their existing residences, said Tom Mapp, general manger for Havertys in Northern Virginia and Maryland. And Havertys is benefiting, selling mostly its own brand of furniture in the middle to upper-middle price range.

"We've been looking at this market for a long time, and looking for the right opportunity," Mapp said. He said the Towson site, in space left vacant by aFilene's Basement, offered an attractive rent and strong demographics for consumers. "There's a lot of opportunity here, and we'll be a good fit for the market."

HomeGoods, a 395-store national chain, has also been in expansion mode. It will open a 25,000-square-foot store in the Vornado Center in Towson by the end of August, employing 60 workers, said spokesman Phil Tracey. HomeGoods has stores locally in Abingdon, Columbia, Crofton, Glen Burnie, Mount Airy and Owings Mills. The stores say they sell designer and brand-name goods, including accessories and furnishings, at a deep discount.

"We've been opening stores for the past few years, and this is just continuing those store openings," Tracey said. "We have a lot of home enthusiasts in the Towson market, and we have a lot of folks who love to shop for high-quality items but don't want to pay full price."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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