Custom Fit -- New Owners of Furniture Firm Plan Move to Revived Sears Crosstown

By Thomas Bailey, Jr. | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), November 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

Custom Fit -- New Owners of Furniture Firm Plan Move to Revived Sears Crosstown


Thomas Bailey, Jr., The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


A custom furniture maker for the hospitality industry plans to join larger tenants in a revived Sears Crosstown building, adding a key ingredient -- production -- to the mix of activities designed to draw a lot of people over a long time.

Memphis Contract Furniture makes custom booths, banquettes, tables and chairs for businesses and restaurants such as Circa, Felicia Suzanne's, The Racquet Club, Smith & Nephew, Swankys Taco Shop, Cheffie's Cafe, Mesquite Chop House, Graceland and YoLo Frozen Yogurt.

Customer and YoLo founder Taylor Berger made a good impression on 67-year-old Warren Williams, who owned Memphis Contract Furniture until this month. When Williams decided it was time to retire, he gave Berger first shot at buying his company that employs six workers.

He's a good guy, Williams said. That's one of the reasons I approached him. I knew he'd value the employees who had been here a long time.

Berger bit after six months of due diligence, partnering with investor and International Paper executive Stephen McIntosh to buy the company assets for $190,000.

I've probably looked at 50 different deals since starting YoLo," Berger said. This is one I had a good feeling about from the beginning. I feel in my bones it's going to be very successful and also a lot of fun.

Memphis Contract Furniture is housed in a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in West Memphis.

But Berger plans to move the operation to Sears Crosstown sometime in the next few years when the long-vacant, 1.5 million- square-foot building is ready to receive tenants.

Nine founding tenants last summer publicly committed to moving all or part of their operations or programming there and consuming 600,000 of the 1 million square feet left after partial demolition. They are: Church Health Center, The West Clinic, ALSAC, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare; Rhodes College, Gestalt Community Schools, Memphis Teacher Residency and Crosstown Arts.

As prominent as those tenants are in providing health care, education and events/programming, they leave missing what urban planners say are two other important ingredients for a successful urban magnet: retail and production. Memphis Contract Furniture will help fill the gap.

The Sears Crosstown development team project leader, Todd Richardson, called Berger a terrific partner.

This kind of diverse, creative community, with a mixture of different people and uses working together, is central to Crosstown Arts' mission, Richardson said. Taylor shares these values.

Production and light manufacturing create jobs for skilled workers and increase demand for local products made by artisans, he said.

In addition to continuing to build high-quality, custom furniture, (Memphis Contract Furniture) will also work collaboratively with Crosstown Arts to help realize their mutual vision for shared art-making facilities, including a wood and metal workshop, Richardson said.

The massive redevelopment project also will benefit as word spreads that a furniture-making company will join other tenants there, Richardson said.

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