Jeff Smith doesn’t think his business, Walker Furniture in Gainesville, Fla., will be ordered to close again.
“I’m not as worried,” he said last week. “I think it’s probably about a 20 to 25 percent chance.”
But that’s a chance he’d rather not take. So Smith, a member of the Home Furnishings Association’s Government Relations Action Team, is pressing elected officials to look at furniture stores differently if a surge in coronavirus cases requires a second round of business closings.
Smith wrote to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on behalf of furniture stores.
“First and foremost, I want to thank you for your handling of the Covid-19 virus attack on our state,” Smith wrote. “Your administration’s response properly balanced our fellow Floridians’ very real health concerns with the very real financial concerns for small businesses and local governments. As you know, recently there has been an increase in cases in Florida. I hope and pray that all the remedial measures and our great medical industry succeed in controlling this virus before it does irreversible damage to our country.
‘If the unthinkable happens …’
“If the unthinkable happens and cases spike beyond the current projections, I ask that you please consider our association’s position that family furniture stores ARE ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES that can operate safely and deserve equal treatment with the ‘big box’ stores.”
He attached the HFA’s one-page summary (below) of why furniture stores are essential, can operate safely and should be given the same treatment as large retailers that sell furniture as well as groceries, cleaning supplies and other products that are classified as essential.
[Furniture stores fight for essential equity]
Smith doesn’t believe the governor wants to shut down any businesses again.
“I think DeSantis understands we’re not going to survive, and government won’t survive, if that happens again,” he said. But making the argument for furniture stores is something he felt was necessary, given what happened just a few weeks ago.
Business at family-owned Walker Furniture has been “really, really good” since the store reopened last month, buoyed by strong Memorial Day weekend sales, Smith said. There appeared to be a pent-up demand as consumers – suddenly spending much more time at home – realized they wanted more comfortable or functional furnishings.
[Many HFA retailers report strong Memorial Day weekend sales]
‘We’re part of the solution’
Customers also can be assured that Walker Furniture is following all Centers for Disease Control guidelines for safe operations. Employees wear face coverings, surfaces are continually cleaned and there’s plenty of room for social distancing.
Those are all circumstances that reinforce HFA’s message that furniture stores really didn’t need to close in the first place – and they certainly should be excluded from further closures.
“We’re part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Smith said.
HFA urges all its members to send that message to governors and other state and local leaders. They should invite state representatives and city or town officials to visit their stores and see for themselves.
[Tell leaders you can reopen your store safely]
Here is HFA’s argument:
Furniture stores are essential and safe, and they deserve equal treatment
Home Furnishings Association members sell products that are essential to their customers’ lives. Furniture stores can be operated safely. And they deserve to be treated as same as big-box retailers that also sell home furnishings products. Please share this with your state and local leaders. (You can look them up here.)
Furniture stores are essential
- As millions of Americans adjusted to new circumstances during the coronavirus crisis, some governors recognized as essential “businesses that sell, manufacture or supply products needed for people to work from home” (Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, others). To work from home, people need desks, chairs, computer tables, lighting. Children and college students learning from home have similar needs.
- Appliances, sold by many furniture stores, are essential to the safe and healthy operations of American households.
- Lift chairs, recliners and adjustable-base beds are essential for people with physical infirmities or who are recovering from injuries or illnesses – including COVID-19.
- Americans spending more time at home put more wear and tear on household furnishings. Comfort and utility become more important. New home furnishings, including sofas, armchairs and bedding, make home life more pleasant.
- When furniture stores close, state and local governments lose millions of dollars in sales tax revenue.
Furniture stores are safe
- Centers for Disease Control guidelines for businesses posted May 14, 2020, list measures that furniture stores are well-suited to achieve.
- Furniture stores typically employ small staffs and receive few customers for the space they occupy. They can keep people safe distances apart. Customer visits can be scheduled through appointments to further limit the number of people in stores at one time.
- Because stores are open six or seven days per week and 10 or more hours per day, they can operate staggered shifts for enhanced safety.
- Face coverings don’t hinder the work of furniture store employees. They also have time between customers for thorough hand-washing and other hygienic practices.
- Stores can be thoroughly cleaned several times a day.
All stores that sell furniture should be treated the same
- Many big-box chains that sell appliances, groceries, medical supplies – and also furniture – have been granted “essential” status with license to sell home furnishings products that furniture stores could not. This is a fundamental inequity that should not be allowed to continue.