By DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal
HIGH POINT, N.C. – For anybody who’s never been to High Point for one of its furniture markets, here’s a tip: Bring your walking shoes.
I’ve covered a dozen Tupelo Furniture Market shows, one in Las Vegas and even one in Shanghai, but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit High Point until this week.
Combine all the other markets together and they don’t equal High Point’s footprint of about 12 million square feet spread across 188 (no, that’s not a typo) buildings.
Even if you’re lucky enough to nab a pass to park in one of the exhibitors’ parking lots, everything is spread out. The market does have a nifty multimillion-dollar transportation terminal where shuttle vans carry attendees between the market, hotels and airports.
The High Point Market has been around since 1909, getting its start as the Southern Furniture Market.
And here it stands, the biggest furniture market in the world, in the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World.”
If that sounds familiar, Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi bill themselves as the “Upholstered Furniture Capital of the World.”
Northeast Mississippi got put on the furniture industry’s map in 1948 when Morris Futorian opened the first upholstered plant in New Albany.
In and around High Point, wood furniture manufacturing got a foothold much earlier. In the 1890 census, North Carolina had six furniture plants. High Point’s first furniture factory started a year earlier. In 1901, 35 furniture manufacturers in High Point tossed around the idea of having a trade show to compete with markets in Chicago, New York and Grand Rapids, Mich.
The industry had been centered in the northern U.S., but by the early 20th century, migration to the South was commonplace. North Carolina’s abundant supply of hardwood forests was key. By the time the Great Depression hit, the state was home to more than 140 furniture manufacturers, helping it become the fifth-largest furniture producing state.
By the late 1930s, North Carolina and Virginia produced more than a third of the wood bedroom and dining room furniture in the U.S. By 1955, nearly half of all bedroom furniture was made within a 125-mile radius of High Point.
As the industry grew, so did the market in High Point.
A study conducted by High Point University said the furniture industry contributes nearly $9 billion to the North Carolina economy. The High Point Market, according to market officials, by itself has a $1 billion annual impact, and represents about 13,000 employees per market.
How big is furniture here? There’s a furniture library with more than 7,000 volumes related to the industry. And there’s even a furniture driving tour where you can visit 13 key sites, from historic factories to the gleaming, glass-and-steel Showplace showroom.
Furniture has a rich history here, rightly celebrated and preserved.
Something Mississippians should think about, too.
Contact business editor Dennis Seid at email@example.com or (662) 678-1578.