Weinberger’s Furniture marks 85 years in Augusta

Something old, something new

Eighty-five years is a long time, especially for the life of a business.

 

Take Weinberger’s Furniture and Mattress Showcase. It turns 85 this year, and the fourth generation of its founding family still helps keep the Augusta-based retail store going.

“We’ve done business with fourth generations of some families, too,” owner Mark Weinberger said.

Weinberger’s marked its 85th on Thursday with a ribbon-cutting to unveil its new Patio Shop and Business Interiors show spaces behind its main showroom, and with a party to celebrate the business’ longevity.

Weinberger’s main showroom has been at 3021 River Watch Parkway since 2012. Its furniture and rug outlet is across the street and maybe a quarter-mile west. Weinberger’s also has a Lake Oconee showroom in Greensboro.

But the story of Weinberger’s begins downtown, and with another Augustan – Abe Fogel.

When Fogel married Hannah Isenberg in 1925, The Augusta Chronicle wedding announcement described him as a “well-known young businessman of Augusta.”

In 1932 the Fogels went into business for themselves and founded the Used Furniture Market, in a pair of storefronts at 1118 and 1120 Broad St. once occupied by Schneider’s Department Store, which had downsized to neighboring storefronts.

“In 1932 they had no money,” Weinberger said of the fledgling business. “The net worth of the company was about a hundred bucks. That might have been a decent amount of money back in ’32.”

By 1935 the business sporadically started dropping the word “Used” from its name and became just The Furniture Market. Beginning in 1941 it started being called Augusta Furniture Market in advertisements occasionally. That name gained more permanent currency in the 1960s.

In 1944, seeing an opportunity to move closer downtown, the Fogels moved the business to 1019 Broad St., in space formerly occupied by the Green Furniture Co., which had gone out of business about two years before.

The Fogels put as much profit as they could back into the business to gradually introduce new furniture as well as used, and to branch out into other retail offerings such as appliances. A 1949 Chronicle ad for The Furniture Market featured a 7-foot Frigidaire refrigerator for $50, and a three-piece living room suite for $39.50.

What happened next for the family was priceless: The Fogels’ daughter, Elaine, married Gene Weinberger in 1951. The two had met while both attended Vanderbilt University.

Weinberger started working at The Furniture Market in 1953, and in 1960, he became a partner in running the business with Fogel’s brother, Myron.

The Weinberger family grew along with the business. Mark Weinberger’s affinity for the business grew, too. He didn’t consider another line of work.

“I started when I was a young teenager, and when I got out of college there really wasn’t a whole lot of conversation,” Weinberger said. “That was what I was going to do. I grew up in it. I didn’t have to be coerced. I never had anything else in mind.”

By 1969 the business moved a block closer downtown, to 905 Broad St., the former site of Bowen Brothers Hardware, which went out of business in 1967. Augusta Furniture also bore a new name: Augusta Furniture and Carpet Market.

One of the features of that building was Augusta’s first escalator, with wooden treads, that Dudley Bowen had installed in 1947.

“And it was really loud, so you would turn it on and go up and then turn it off,” Weinberger recalled. “It was too loud to have on all the time.”

But moving into the 1970s, the business climate downtown wasn’t the same.

“Broad Street did dry up at that time,” Weinberger said. “I mean, it was rough. There was nothing to draw people to Broad Street any more after the malls opened.”

Other parts of the family’s local business also were changing. Augusta Furniture started a second location at 2608 Peach Orchard Road in 1964. It closed in 1975 with an auction of its remaining inventory. Also in 1975, the company opened another branch in Southgate Plaza on Gordon Highway. It closed in 1980.

So in 1978, with the impending openings of Augusta and Regency malls, and at a time when many other businesses were leaving downtown for fresher opportunities, Augusta Furniture moved yet again to 3137 Washington Road. It was, Weinberger said, “a necessity.”

The following year, Myron Fogel amicably left the business to open Fogel’s Carpet and Vinyl, leaving Augusta Furniture in Weinberger’s hands. Then, the business changed names again – to Weinberger’s Furniture and Mattress Showcase.

By that time, the business with its roots in used furniture had earned its reputation for carrying high-quality merchandise, which left some shoppers wondering if Weinberger’s would be out of their price range. So in the early 1980s, the store began running its “Yes you can!” ads, to answer the question: Can you afford to buy Weinberger’s furniture?

The ads still run on Augusta television today, with Mark Weinberger alongside his daughter, Karly.

She represents the fourth generation of family running the business. After studying business management and interior design at the University of Georgia, she is a company vice-president. What does that entail?

“Pretty much everything,” she said. “I do all the merchandising, so all the buying and setting up the showrooms, and advertising.”

The fundamentals of the business are the same, Mark Weinberger said. You still have to buy from manufacturers and bring it in our warehouse. You have to prep it and show it on our floors or ship it to someone’s home.

One thing that has changed is furniture shopping online.

“It still astounds us that people will buy things online without touching and feeling them, sitting in them. But they do,” he said. “But the Internet also helps us because people do a lot of research and find us.”

As part of doing business, Weinberger also is enjoying the Augusta area’s recent growth spurt.

“Lately what I like about it is meeting all the new people we’re getting in town,” he said. “It’s incredible. We’re getting a tremendous amount of new customers, in Augusta, in Grovetown and in South Carolina, Aiken especially.”

And even though the business is getting older, the challenge to keep succeeding never gets old.

“We compete with big-box stores, consignment stores, you name it,” Weinberger said. “We have to continually reinvent ourselves, keep fresh.”

Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or joe.hotchkiss@augustachronicle.com.

 

More