Montgomery’s Furniture celebrates 125 years
Few companies can boast 125 years in business, and fewer still can add single family ownership to that record.
Montgomery’s Furniture wins on both counts.
“We were selling home furnishings before South Dakota was a state,” said Jim Loomer, 82, the company’s thirdgeneration president and owner of the company’s original store in Alexandria and a larger showroom in Mitchell. His son, Todd, 52, company vice president, ensures fourth-generation continuity.
“I feel like I’m all of 125 myself,” Jim joked recently. He and his staff had just finished moving the Mitchell store’s furniture to allow the replacement of 16,000 square feet of carpet.
“Things have to look good,” Jim said. “My dad used to say the first 25 feet of a store tells what kind of store you have.”
Not your average octogenarian, Loomer moves like a man half his age — possibly due to the miles he walks daily covering the 30,000-square-foot Mitchell showroom. When the entry chime sounds announcing a customer, he’s off: greeting, listening, recommending, advising and, finally, closing the sale. Recliners and mattresses are the store’s top-selling items.
Vermonter George H. Montgomery arrived in the Dakota Territory in 1884 and opened his furniture and funeral businesses in 1887 (this year has been chosen to commemorate the 125th anniversary), at an Alexandria location now occupied by the town’s post office. South Dakota became a state in 1889.
In 1902, the businesses moved to a two-story building at a location where the Security State Bank now stands. Son Russell joined the firm in 1918, and son-in-law Gilbert Loomer joined him in 1920. The elder Montgomery died in 1922.
In 1959, Gilbert’s sons Jim and George took over the company and later built a new store close to Interstate 90 in Alexandria to replace the downtown building that burned in April 1964.
The funeral side of the business was sold to Will Funeral Chapel in 1983.
The brothers worked together 31 years, opening, and sometimes closing, stores in Arlington, Madison and Sioux Falls before deciding to go their separate directions.
Jim kept the original store in Alexandria, and George kept the Madison location, which he later sold to his daughter Connie Sinclair and her husband Clark, who also operate Montgomery’s furniture stores in Sioux Falls and Watertown.
Jim and son Todd opened the Mitchell showroom on Havens Avenue in 1989 and expanded the showroom to its present 30,000 square feet in 2004.
Jim Loomer was raised in the furniture business.
“When I was growing up, my job was to take the carpets customers brought into town and vacuum them clean,” he said. “Many farms still didn’t have electricity back then, so no one had a vacuum. I’d vacuum, and vacuum and vacuum.”
Afterward, he would flip over the carpets and add a coat of liquid sizing that would stiffen them to like-new condition. The dirt that had been sucked from the rugs was bagged and shown to customers as proof of an effective service. Service is still a huge part of the business, Jim said, from free delivery to furniture repairs. The stores’ fortunes flowed with the rise and fall of the rural economy. Back in the 1930s, during the Depression, Jim said there wasn’t much money around so the stores were occasionally forced to take meat or chickens as payment.
“We had our Arlington store manager call us up one time and tell us he had a customer who wanted to trade two bull calves for a couple of chairs. We made the deal and went out and picked up the calves and turned them over to someone to raise. We sold them a year later and barely broke even,” Jim said, smiling. “We’re out of the cattle business now.” Home fashion trends also come and go. In the 1950s and ’60s the trend was toward matching furniture styles and home decor, Loomer said. “Everything matched, right down to the salt and pepper shakers.”
Today’s home decor is more eclectic and furniture styles are regularly mixed in most homes. The modern customer also wants and expects a wider variety of choices, styles and colors than did the customers of yesteryear. While the woman of the house still has the major say in matters regarding home décor, Jim said, husbands today are more involved in making final choices than they were in the stores’ earlier days when the house was her focus and the farm was his. Montgomery’s price points tend to be mid-range, Jim said. Cheap furniture doesn’t last and he’s found that customers prefer quality merchandise that’s moderately and competitively priced. He has toyed with the idea of retiring and in his mind he has — sort of. He’s not working nights or Sundays.
“Otherwise I’d be here 68 hours a week instead of 48,” he said. Marlys, his wife of 54 years, died about a year ago. A portrait of them together sits behind his desk. “She used to say, ‘Jim, that business is your life.’ ” He doesn’t deny that. “I enjoy people. I enjoy the business. And the people in our area are wonderful.” Todd Loomer said it’s too early to tell if daughters Amelia, 6, and Melina, 4, will add a fifth generation to the family furniture business, but there are glimmers of promise. He said the outgoing Amelia recently approached a customer trying out a recliner. “You want to buy a La-Z-Boy”? she asked. “How much?” came the reply. “Fifty dollars,” she answered quickly, which drew a laugh from the customer. The customer bought the chair. “We wrote it up,” Todd said, “but not for fifty dollars.”