Tom Rich has been betting on North Street's renaissance for 27 years. When he and his parents, Paul and Betty Rich, opened their furniture store, Paul Rich & Sons, in 1983, "Pittsfield was still a GE town," recalls Rich. "The England Brothers department store was still open down the street." The home furnishings industry was still dominated by full-service department stores and independent retailers that sold dining room tables and club chairs manufactured mostly in Michigan and North Carolina. (It wasn't until 1989, for instance, that specialty retailers like Crate & Barrel started selling furniture.) "There are very few full-service, family-run stores like ours left," says Rich.
Improbably, Paul Rich & Sons has prospered in Pittsfield even when the city hasn't. "Just as GE was shutting down, the second home boom was happening and that saved us," says Rich, who notes he has seven full-time designers on staff to help customers with space planning and choosing fabrics. "We have a lot of customers from beyond the Berkshires, especially in Columbia County. The second-home customers like doing business with us so much that they started asking if we would deliver to Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island. Now, we send a truck down to the New York City area a couple of times a month."
To keep customers coming back, Paul Rich & Sons has increased its offerings. "As everyone else was grading down, we were grading up," says Rich. "We still have furniture for the solid middle-class customers," he says, pointing to a $999 sofa by Lee Industries, "but we also became higher end." As the store expanded from 10,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet (and finally added air conditioning a few years ago), Paul Rich & Sons started selling room-sized Oriental rugs as well as outdoor furniture by prestige companies like Brown Jordan and Barlow Tyrie. "For five months of the year, we devote nearly one-third of the store to outdoor furniture," he says. "It's become one of our biggest categories." Ekornes recliners from Norway are also a top-seller, but Rich is especially proud of the high-end Shifman mattresses that have a large display on the store's lower level. "Would you believe they're handmade in Newark, New Jersey?" he says.
Although it's a challenge, Paul Rich & Sons makes a concerted effort to find American made products such as the tiger maples dining room tables made by D.R. Dimes in Northwood, New Hampshire. "He still delivers the tables to us personally, and I write him a check on the spot," says Rich. "We do business the old fashioned way."
Tom and his wife, Pam, who both grew up in Pittsfield, are heartened by the North Street revival. "We're so happy that we can recommend many places within walking distance for our customers to have lunch," says Pam. Indeed, when the couple went to have lunch across the street at Spice when it opened nearly four years ago, they sat at a window table looking at their own store and realized the exterior was looking tired. "That's when we decided to make an investment in all the new awnings," says Tom.
Even as they add classic modern pieces by Bertoia and Saarinen for Knoll, they remain traditionalists who take pride in selling American-made furniture. As Pam was getting ready for the annual Presidents' Day Weekend sale, she did an inventory and made a pleasant discovery. "We still have 18 lines that are Made in America which gave us our sale's theme," she says. "What could be more appropriate for President's Day?"
MADE IN THE USABrown Street Whitefield, NH
Bucks County Telford, PA
Charleston Forge Boone, NC
D.R. Dimes Northwood, NH
Flat Rock Waldron, IN
Hancock & Moore Highpoint, NC
Harden McConnesville, NY
Hickory Chair Hickory, NC
Lee Industries Newton, NC
MacKenzie-Dow Huntington, WV
Pearson High Point, NC
Sherill Hickory, NC
Shifman Mattress Newark, NJ
Stanley Stanleytown, VA
Vermont Woodcraft Whiting, VT
Vermont Tubbs Whitefield, NH
Zimmerman Chair Lebanon, PA
Paul Rich & Sons
242 North Street, Pittsfield, MA; 800-723-7424
Monday - Saturday: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: noon - 4 p.m.
Presidents' Day Sale: February 11 - 15
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