The Times West Virginian

October 27, 2013

Friendly Furniture Galleries marking 35 years

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Friendly Furniture Galleries Inc. has been offering the Fairmont community a “friendly, homey kind of shopping experience” for 35 years.

The store opened its doors at 205 Adams St. on Oct. 30, 1978. But the business’ roots actually go back about two decades before that.

Louis Spatafore, who owns Friendly Furniture Galleries with his sister Jeanne Marie Higinbotham, explained that his father, Bill, and uncle, Jack, founded the family business in Clarksburg in 1956.

Bill had a small lunch business and also worked at the Friendly Tavern, which Jack owned, in the evenings. The brothers came up with the idea of putting a color television in the pub so they could show the Pabst Blue Ribbon “Friday Night Fights” and fill up the place with people.

They ended up buying three TVs from a distributor and becoming TV dealers. Bill and Jack set up the color TVs with price tags in the pub, and they sold the TVs quickly and had requests for more. As a result, the brothers decided to turn their operations into Jack’s Friendly TV.

They later added appliances, furniture and mattresses, and the business continued to expand.

When Louis was 7 years old, he started helping his father Bill at the store on Second Street in Clarksburg. On Saturdays, he cleaned up the place with a dust rag and mop, earning a paycheck of $2 a week, which he said was a big deal for a kid his age.

From there, Louis learned the business from the ground up, starting from the basics and moving through all the steps to the real decision-making. He worked in the warehouse, drove the delivery truck, serviced appliances, did sales and then went into management.

In July 1978, Friendly Furniture Galleries signed a lease purchase agreement for the former Jones Department Store building in downtown Fairmont.

This historic, five-story, 40,000-square-foot structure is more than 100 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building features a hand-operated elevator from the 1910s, as well as Fairmont’s first automatic elevator from the mid-1940s, Louis said.

The Spatafore family spent several months cleaning, re-carpeting and repainting the space, which had been vacant for two years, to convert it from a clothing store to a furniture store. The first two floors opened up the first year of business.

When the store opened, Louis was a 21-year-old business student at Fairmont State, with one more year of college to go. He said his dad required that he get a college education if he was going to run the business. Upon graduating in 1979, Louis became full-time manager of the store in Fairmont.

The family officially purchased the building in 1980, and within four years, all five floors were in use. In 1983, the Clarksburg and Fairmont stores were separated between the two families.

Louis said his mother, Philomena Iaquinta Spatafore, was involved in the Fairmont store for many years, and a lot of customers enjoyed working with her. She is now 95 years old.

Over the years, Friendly Furniture Galleries has done a lot of remodeling. In the mid-1990s, the store added a coffee bar, where coffees are brewed, cookies are baked and customers are entertained. Last year, the first floor was completely renovated and all new LED track lighting was installed, Louis said.

At Friendly Furniture Galleries, customers can find many different lines of furniture, from promotionally priced pieces to really special items, he said. The store puts a lot of emphasis on accessories like wall decor, table tops, lamps and other pieces that really make rooms stand out.

Throughout the year, Louis travels to different markets, like High Point, N.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Columbus, Ohio, to look for the latest furniture offerings.

“We want to differentiate our store from what you can get elsewhere,” he said. “We show different types of designs, things that you normally don’t see in every store. I think that sets us apart.”

The business has interior decorators who can help customers choose styles, colors, patterns and accessories that best fit their homes, and also offer advice on projects such as hanging pictures or chandeliers. Friendly Furniture Galleries often works with students in Pierpont Community & Technical College’s Applied Design Program.

The store’s staff of about 12 employees, both full-time and part-time, really show that they care, Louis said.

“We have some good people that work here,” he said. “We take care of our customers. When there’s an issue, service problem, we go all out to make sure it’s corrected.”

Louis’ wife, Deloris, wears many hats at Friendly Furniture Galleries. She manages the coffee bar, oversees the office, works with customers and more.

The couple lives in Fairmont and has been active in the community. They have three grown children, April Lemley, Billy and Angela, and six grandchildren.

Main Street Fairmont helped Friendly Furniture celebrate its 35th anniversary in the Friendly City with a “Main Street Morning” event on Oct. 15 and presented the business with a plaque. The store is also currently having an anniversary sale.

Generations of families have shopped at the Fairmont store, Louis said.

“We’re very thankful that we’re here and that we’ve been patronized by the public well, and look forward to the next 35 years,” he said.

Friendly Furniture Galleries is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Appointments are available in the evenings.

For more information, call 304-366-9113, visit www.friendlyfurniture.com, or find the store on Facebook or Twitter.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.