Furniture Capital of the West
Sixty years ago, Sugar House was known as the “Furniture Capital of the West,” with 21 home furnishings stores in the business district. Today, there is only one full-line furniture store left—Sterling Furniture Company. Coincidentally, thousands of individuals are moving into the new apartment buildings in downtown Sugar House and along the streetcar corridor through South Salt Lake. So where are they buying furniture? The parking lots at warehouse-style stores west and south of Sugar House demonstrate their popularity, but for many people, shopping online is the way to go. However, Sterling Furniture offers the ability for customers to come in, feel fabrics, personally choose a style—and they offer free regional delivery.
Russell Okerlund is a salesperson for Sterling Furniture Company, and he has noticed a change in the store’s clientele. Sterling’s typical customer likes to sit on a chair and feel the upholstery. He said that new residents are more apt to use a mobile device to buy their furniture and have it delivered right to their doors. As long as it is new and looks good they are satisfied. For them, convenience is the foremost consideration.
Shifting Consumer Trends
This did not surprise Meggie Troili, who heads the Community Council Arts and Culture Committee. She asked new as well as longtime residents how they felt about the construction and growth in Sugar House. The majority, she said, were excited to live here but were dismayed by changes that urban renewal has brought; particularly the increased traffic and the replacement of locally-owned businesses with chain stores.
Troili noted that there was a generational aspect to the degree of residents’ distress. Many newcomers are young adults, excited about living in a place that meets their social and cultural need for diversity and choice. Broadly speaking, the younger generations seem more interested in experiences—friends, travel, social interactions—than material things, and they spend their money accordingly. For those who are just starting their professional careers and possibly burdened with large student debt, cost is a major factor, so home furnishings tend to be minimalist and economical.
Angelina Peña agreed. Peña is an agent for Exit Realty Legacy, and said people who are attracted to the culture and traditional character of Sugar House are comfortable with smaller homes and furniture with simple, clean lines and greater versatility. A flat screen TV doesn’t require a bulky cabinet to support it. Amazon.com features modular sofas that convert to storage spaces and beds.
What’s more, many young residents prefer to work from home, needing little more than their phones and laptops. Peña said the new-generation operating model has caused some businesses to redesign their offices into resource centers with a training room and common areas for agents, reducing the need for large, expensive office furnishings.
Hope in the Future
The Millennial generation’s on-line buying habits may have temporarily contributed to the loss of brick-and-mortar furniture stores, but as baby-boomers shop to fill their smaller nests, and the younger set starts to invest in durable, high-quality merchandise, Sugar House may yet regain its former glory.