By LINDA MOSS
After 70 years in town, Hampton House, a high-end furniture store, is closing and Montclair developer and downtown landlord Dick Grabowsky is purchasing its landmark building on the corner of Bloomfield and North Fullerton avenues.
Grabowsky said he put a deposit on the building last August and now that owners Ron and Joan Fisch have announced their retirement he will be able to close on the property.
“We should be finishing the purchase shortly,” he said, declining to say what he is paying.
Ron Fisch said that the building is under contract to be purchased, but declined to comment further about it.
Grabowsky said he plans to do a major renovation of the 12,000-square-foot building, which dates back to 1890, leaving the first floor for “a quality” retailer or restaurant and making the second and third floors office space. The building also has a lower-level floor on North Fullerton, which Grabowksy said he may try to use for “a separate entity of some type.”
The improvements at the building at 467 Bloomfield Ave. will include a new staircase, a larger-capacity and higher-speed elevator, and an entrance on Bloomfield Avenue that will be “appropriate” for the second- and third-floor office tenants. Grabowsky said that the plans he has for the building are permitted under town ordinances so he won’t need any variances.
It’s a bittersweet end for the family-furniture dynasty in Montclair’s commercial center. But Ron, 68, and his wife Joan, 63, are ready to retire and spend time with their daughters, who live in California and Chicago.
“We just felt it was right,” Ron said. “We just never had the flexibility that we could leave the store for any length of time to visit. We just made a decision that that is very important.”
The Fisches’ decision to close their store also comes at a time when the retail industry is undergoing a huge upheaval, as consumers increasingly do their shopping online. And the retail-furniture sector has been hit hard, facing weak demand, with chains such as Dearden, RoomStore and Levitz Furniture going out of business, and Huffman Koos retrenching and rebranding.
“The whole retail business is different today, much more online purchasing … It’s not our business,” Ron said, adding that he didn’t want to do that kind of business, impersonal and having to ship a lot of items.
“In our industry we’re a dying breed,” Ron said. “We’re the last of the the mom-and-pop furniture stores … They’re [furniture stores] strictly on the highway and they’re chains.”
Another issue, Joan said, is that many of the manufacturers they buy from make furniture domestically, and these goods are more expensive than the merchandise made overseas, turning away some shoppers. Hampton House sells transitional-style furniture, “more livable than modern and not so stuffy as traditional,” according to Ron.
Fisch’s father Carl, a former furniture buyer for Bamberger’s in Newark, opened Hampton House in 1947. Ron joined the family business in 1977, and said that the store has in some cases been serving three generations of families. The Hampton House property was the site of a general merchandise store opened by Peter Doremus in 1812. The existing building was constructed in 1890. In 1947 Carl Fisch renovated the facade of the store, giving it its current Art Deco look.
Ron Fisch said that people have come into the store to tell him that his father years ago would offer them credit, letting them pay just $5 a week so they could buy furniture.
The Fisches earlier this week were busy marking down merchandise in their store, putting signs on the various sofas, chairs, lamps and other items. On Wednesday and today, June 8, they were holding a private sale for their loyal customers. On Friday, they will open the sale to the general public. They expect the sale to last until the end of July, and have more than $1 million in inventory to clear out, according to Ron.
The store also felt the impact of the trend of people today going out to restaurants to eat, rather than entertaining at home, according to Joan, so they aren’t spending on dining-room furniture.
“We see more dining rooms that are the children’s playrooms than a dining room,” Joan said.
Hampton House has customers from not only Montclair but surrounding areas, including New York City, and has shipped furniture to Nantucket, Ireland and Singapore, Ron said.
Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, said that the retail sector is especially difficult for businesses that don’t want to do transactions online.
“It’s a tough lot with retail right now,” he said. “If you’re not being innovative with your retail, a lot of people are dying a slow death.”
Montclair shop owners who are surviving were already in town before rents began soaring, have had success in other places and then come to the township, or have had success online, according to Cronk.
The Frisches always enjoyed being able to offer a personal touch and service to customers. For example, a Montclair family had bought a sofa bed a few days before Thanksgiving for their guests to use on the holiday. On Thanksgiving night, they called the Frisches to complain that they couldn’t figure out how to open it up. The married couple left their Thanksgiving festivities and family to help out.
“We went and opened it up for them,” Joan said.