By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – Fourteen months ago, Townhouse Home Furnishings’ world was turned upside down.
It, along with the rest of the community, was devastated by the EF-5 tornado. Two of the company’s three buildings were destroyed, putting in doubt the future of the town’s largest employer.
But within three weeks, Townhouse was up and running again in Mantachie, where it moved into the former PeopLounger’s building.
Nearly a year later, Townhouse is back home in Smithville, back where the company got its start.
“We felt we owed it to the town, to the people here to come back,” said company CEO Jon Nicholson.
Townhouse returned about three weeks ago with little fanfare, but its departure from Mantachie caused a bit of a stir. Officials said they were concerned about the overgrown property and litter on the grounds, as well as lost revenue.
Nicholson said it wasn’t Townhouse’s intention to leave Mantachie or Itawamba County hanging. In fact, the company is returning to clean up the property and hopes to resume production there as soon as possible, he said.
“We’re very grateful for the people there who helped us get back on our feet,” he said. “Could we maybe have handled the move back a little better? Probably so. We never intended to reflect negatively on Mantachie or Itawamba County.”
Nicholson, who was named CEO a couple of months ago, said his priority was to get Townhouse back to Smithville, where the company got its start a decade ago. About 100 people work at the plant, down from its peak of about 150 last year.
The economy remains uncertain, and the furniture industry typically goes through a slow period during the summer months. So as Townhouse made its transition back to Smithville, there was no point in keeping the Mantachie operations open if the business wasn’t there to support it.
“When we went to Mantachie last year, we were at the end of a very busy season,” Nicholson said. “We had a catastrophe for the town and for us. We had orders to fill and needed to put people to work.”
That’s where Mantachie and the old PeopLounger’s building came into play. Most of Townhouse’s workers followed their company there, but the 40-mile commute wasn’t for everybody.
“We said then that if they followed us there, we’d get them back to Smithville as soon as we could,” Nicholson said. The company did just that.
Keeping Mantachie open was the company’s intent – as long as business warranted it. Right now, conditions don’t. But Nicholson said the company does have plans to return as soon as possible.
“We have an opportunity to expand and get back in there by Labor Day,” he said. “Business conditions always drive decisions. … and we hope to be back as soon as we can.”