Dunn Daily Record News Editor
Some men like cars. Some men like clothes. Abe Elmore likes furniture.
To prove it, he’s been in that business for 50 years now, since the very day after his Wake Forest College (now University) graduation, which was May 31, 1955.
1955 was a happening year elsewhere as well. For a little perspective, these things also took place that year: Bill Haley and The Comets sang “Rock Around The Clock.” Disneyland opened in California. James Dean died. And the TV show “The Honeymooners” debuted.
The secret to Mr. Elmore’s occupational longevity?
“You’ve got to like what you do,” he said matter-of-factly. “And I’ve always enjoyed the furniture business.”
Already the husband of the former Jackie Campbell, also a Dunn native, and the father of one, Mr. Elmore took his brand-new business administration degree into the world of springs and upholstery through his friend Jimmy Suggs, who had opened his own furniture store just a few months earlier on West Broad Street in Dunn, near what is now the Jordan Tew & Associates building. The two men partnered for 19 months.
Mr. Elmore has said of those days, “We grew up with the idea of being hometown people serving hometown folks. We were both young and ready to go.”
Mr. Suggs’ own store celebrated its 50th birthday not long ago. Though technically competitors in the furniture world, the two men have remained friends throughout the years.
“I think he’s the smartest to ever work with me, all around,” Mr. Suggs said. “And if anybody has worked any harder for Dunn than he has, I don’t know it,” he said, referring to Mr. Elmore’s extensive civic involvement.
In 1957, Mr. Elmore journeyed across Broad Street to join Wilbourne Furniture, which sat on the site now home to BB&T bank. In 1966, now an experienced businessman, Mr. Elmore bought out Wilbourne’s Dunn location and Elmore Furniture officially came into being. Newspaper ads for Elmore’s first Christmas season include offerings of the “Quiltorama” mattress, and roll-around televisions.
The Elmores increased over the years, in both business and family. As the couple’s four children grew, Mrs. Elmore took on an active role in the store beside her husband. Elmore Furniture first expanded outside of Dunn in 1980, with a store in Mount Olive; several others followed in surrounding towns.
“We had a small chain going,” said Mr. Elmore, who has now scaled it back to three — Dunn, site of the central warehouse, Aberdeen and Clayton, managed by daughter Cathy Paschal. (Daughter Laura Goodrich works in the auto industry, in Clinton.) The stores serve a customer base of 20,000; employees total about 15.
Today Mr. Elmore is semi-retired, and has turned over the title of corporate president to his son, William. Mrs. Elmore is vice president of the company, while daughter Carolyn Brewington serves as secretary and treasurer. Son-in-law Keith Brewington handles central warehouse operations, and some of the Elmores’ 10 grandchildren are also involved in the business.
“It’s still a family business,” Mr. Elmore said. “Furniture has always been my so-called first love — I think it’s a good stable business to be in.”
Things have changed much within this industry in his tenure, he said, citing upholstery as an example.
“The fabrics last longer, and they’re able to put more color into them — it used to be all solids,” he said. “Now the wear- and clean-ability of the fabrics is outstanding. The comfort is better too; it used to be springs with foam on top, but now cushions have more value.”
The stores carry top brands including Sealy, the 750-fabric Rowe fabric library, and the American-made Vaughn Bassett. Also stocked, from the very beginning, is Berkline motion furniture.
But even more than the merchandise, it’s the shoppers, Mr. Elmore said, who have made the business a success. Third and fourth generations of original clients now come in to shop.
“Our business has been very good over these 50 years,” he said. “We are very appreciative of our customer base, of their loyalty — you can’t be in business without customers. I hope we have treated people fairly, and been good to our community.”
Brenda and Marion Strickland of Dunn must think so — they’ve shopped at Elmore Furniture for 35 years.
“We bought our first furniture there after we got married,” said Mrs. Strickland. “You name it, we’ve bought it. They’re (the Elmores) great people; that’s why they’ve lasted like they have.”
Maurnice Peacock and her sister, Patsy Montgomery, both of Coats, are second-generation clients whose children also now shop with the Elmores.
“My mother (the late Anne Ryals) took me to Mr. Elmore,” said Mrs. Montgomery, to establish credit. “He said if she approved of me, that was good enough for him. I’ve been going there ever since.
“All these years, I’ve never had to worry,” she said. “All you’ve got to do is say, ‘I need something.’ It’s service every way you turn. You couldn’t ask for nicer. And now they’ve got the children to carry on.”
Ms. Peacock said, “My mother went there because she knew she could get what she wanted — quality furniture. It’s been a family affair.”
Only once, in 1973, has Mr. Elmore tried moving the family business out of the downtown area. After three years he knew Downtown Dunn was the place he wanted to be; he’s never left it since.
Success here, Mr. Elmore said, means trading with other local merchants to support the community, and ongoing involvement in civic life.
As a downtown merchant, Mr. Elmore has indeed done more than keep shop. In 1971 he was elected mayor of Dunn, a position he held for 12 years. In 1995, he was re-elected for four more years to the post. He has been an active member of the Chamber of Commerce for all of his 50 years in business, calling the organization the “combined business center of the community.”
In the mid-1980s, he began purchasing substantial commercial and residential real estate, including a good part of the downtown area, where he said he has worked to “rehab” buildings. In 1985, Mr. Elmore led the formation of DOORS, the Downtown Organization Of Revitalization, of which he is president.
During that era, while serving on the state board of economic development under then-Gov. Jim Martin, Mr. Elmore was also instrumental in the formation of Dunn’s business incubator, Triangle South Enterprise Center.
Civic involvement, he believes, is part of being a citizen businessman.
“It’s just another way of being involved in the community, to see it grow and thrive,” he said. “I’m glad we’ve been able to hold our own in the downtown area. I always wanted to be in business for myself, in Dunn. It’s just home.”
Elmore Furniture’s Dunn store is located at 126 N. Clinton Ave., and can be reached at 892-6011.