(E-G photos by William P. Cannon)
A customer walks into King's Furniture on
Lincoln Avenue in Lancaster on Thursday. After 97 years in
business, the store will close permanently in July.
Dan Donahue (right), co-owner of King's
Furniture in Lancaster, talks to Jerry Conkle, 61, of Logan, as
Conkle shops for a new bed inside the store on Thursday.
Customers examine chairs in the showroom at
King's Furniture in Lancaster on Thursday.
LANCASTER -- In July, King's Furniture store closes the final
chapter of a 97-year-old business.
But quitting the furniture business isn't a bad deal for longtime
business partners Dan Donahue and Dick Schleich.
Although they are not the original owners, 74-year-old Donahue
and 61-year-old Schleich, have co-owned and operated the furniture
store since 1971.
Other than serving in the military, this is practically the only
profession either man has ever known. It is the only job Schleich
"Both of us are ready to retire for good," said Donahue, who's
been semi-retired since 1995.
"This business and this building have been everything we wanted
it to be," said Schleich, who has continued to operate the business
full time. "We're not bankrupt or anything; it's still a valuable
business. We're just ready to retire."
Signs announcing the closing were posted in the store's windows a
few weeks ago. All of the furniture is on sale, and the doors are
scheduled to be locked by the end of July, Donahue said.
In addition to Donahue and Schleich, there are three employees at
Herb Tipton joined the staff 10 years ago, after retiring from a
38-year career at Anchor Hocking in 1997.
"I'm sad I'll have to find another job," said the 62-year-old.
"The atmosphere is good, and there are good people to work with.
They've been very fair and have always had a good reputation."
Tipton started out in delivery and worked his way up to sales.
"I wish them the best, he said.
King's Furniture has served as a staple in the community, said
Bill Bickham, acting president of the Lancaster Fairfield County
Chamber of Commerce.
"We always hate to lose a business like King's in Lancaster, but
we appreciate the fact that they've been here so long," Bickham
said. "We hope new businesses will see it as an opportunity to move
in that post and provide some new business for Lancaster."
The business originally was called Rowlands and King Furniture
and opened in 1907. Two brothers, Charles and Alvert Rowlands and
C.L. King owned the store.
At that time, the business was at 212-216 W. Main St.
In 1912, the store moved to a building on Broad Street, now known
as the Bank One building and remained there until the 1930s, when it
moved to its current location on Lincoln Avenue.
King eventually became the sole owner of the store. King's son,
John Frances King, took over the store when he retired.
Donahue and Schleich began working for John Frances King within a
year of one another.
Getting a job at King's Furniture store wasn't an easy feat, said
Donahue, who worked for a couple of furniture stores and owned a
furniture store prior to being hired at the business.
"I came here looking for work and King needed a salesman, but he
told me I was too young," Donahue said. "So I went to Totten's,
another furniture store in town and stayed there for one year. When
I left, there was a guy who gave me a reference and said he would
talk to King for me."
When the gentlemen went to King to recommend Donahue for the job,
he was hired.
The other guy "got the job because he was older than me," Donahue
Six more years would go by before King gave in and hired Donahue.
He was 32 years old.
"Francis said you're still not old enough, but I need a salesman
and he hired me," Donahue said.
A year later, Schleich came to the store looking for a job. He
was 21 years old and had just finished a stint in the Navy.
"Francis interviewed four guys and he said he liked Dick, but he
was too young," Donahue said. "I told him, let's hire Dick so we can
break him in to suit ourselves; we could teach him."
Donahue persuaded King to hire Schleich, who had never worked
outside the military.
In 1971, John Frances King decided to retire.
"He told us if we wanted a job, we'd have to buy the business,"
Donahue said. "I told him there was no way we could do it. (King)
said he'd fix it and set up a buy, sale agreement so we could buy
Neither of King's children wanted to take over the business so it
was either sell or close the doors. Donahue said King didn't want to
sell it to anyone else.
Within seven years, Donahue and Schleich paid for 100 percent of
the company's stock.
In the past four decades, the team has sold furniture to at least
four generations of families, Donahue said.
During that time, furniture styles have come and gone; some
styles reinventing themselves.
"That type of furniture from 1955 to 1959 is coming back,"
Donahue said. "It's like with your hairstyles and clothing that
comes back in style."
The business has managed to carry some of the best furniture
lines in the country, Schleich said.
Despite new furniture stores moving into town, Donahue said
they've never worried about competition.
"We've never paid any attention to our competition. We've pretty
much minded our own business," he said. "We had good service and
repeat service. People's kids, grandchildren and great grandchildren
were coming here to shop."
Merl and Rita Mason of Lancaster have shopped at the store for as
long as the couple has been married. The couple, who will celebrate
their 62nd anniversary this summer, was shopping in the store
"It's sad this store is closing down," said Rita Mason. "There
isn't much left here in this town anymore. It's kind of sad when you
think about it. All of the older stores seem to be closing."
Mason said she and Merl will probably go to Logan or Columbus for
Saying goodbye to customers has been the challenging part of
closing shop, agree Schleich and Donahue.
"There was this woman in here the other day who's bought a
boatload of furniture over the years," Schleich said. "She was
almost in tears, asking 'Where she would go to buy her furniture
Donahue said this has been just as emotional for him. Ninety
percent of the customers he knows by name.
"Many of the customers are like brothers and sisters. ... I know
a lot of people will miss us.
"I've been here so long that I just love the people. I'm not
going to miss the business like I will the people."
Originally published Sunday, May 9, 2004