Draper • In the 1950s and 1960s, Sugar House served as the Salt Lake Valley’s furniture center with iconic stores such as Southeast, Granite, Rockwood, Forseys and Sterling providing single-stop shopping.
These days, Utah’s biggest concentration of furniture stores can be found near the junction of Interstate 15 and Bangerter Highway in Draper. The opening Wednesday of RC Willey’s first new Utah store since 1990 brings the number of stores on the north side of Bangerter to eight.
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"We think the biggest housing market in Utah during the next 20 years will be southwest Salt Lake County and northwest Utah County," RC Willey CEO Scott Hymas said Tuesday as workers scrambled to put last-minute touches on the 160,000-square-foot store, the chain’s largest. "This will be a big hub. People from all over the valley will be able to get here from Interstate 15 or Bangerter to converge on this area."
Other nearby furniture stores include Ikea, Ashley, Oak Express, Bedroom Express, Denver Mattress, Sofa Mart and Beds and More. Hymas said Ikea sold RC Willey the land for the new store thinking there would be good synergy.
"We believe there is as well," he said. "Consumer traffic is what it is all about here. In the furniture market, this is a place to land."
The new Draper store is in some ways replacing the company’s Taylorsville store and West Jordan clearance center, both of which are closing. It contains a large clearance level on its second floor and a number of furniture lines not carried in some of the chain’s other Utah stores.
On Tuesday, the inside and outside of the new RC Willey bustled with activity.
A worker put the last touches on the outdoor sign while others scrambled to landscape the area and finish one last piece of cement at an entrance.
Inside, ladders could be seen in several locations. Empty boxes littered the area near the big screen televisions and workers wheeled merchandise into different parts of the store.
A two-story waterfall greets customers who walk in the east doors. The facility contains a small cafe, an area of more rustic furniture guarded by a fountain and two bears called the Utah Mountain Retreat, a shop selling patio furniture and barbecues and the company’s traditional large appliance, mattress and electronics areas.
The store will employ approximately 130. It was designed by Babcock Design Group and Rick Smith, who is vice president of visual presentation for RC Willey.
This is a long ways away from RC Willey’s humble start when founder and namesake Rufus Call Willey began selling Hotpoint appliances door-to-door in and around Syracuse in 1932, offering his goods on credit, which was unusual at the time. Willey would open a small 600-foot cinderblock store in Syracuse next to his home in 1950, operating as R.C. Willey and Son.
Bill Child took over the small two-employee business from his father-in-law and, with the help of his brother, Sheldon, turned the company into its current success. When RC Willey Home Furnishing was sold to business mogul Warren Buffett in 1995, it was generating more than $250 million a year and had more than 1,500 employees.
Buffett still owns the chain, which has stores in Riverdale, Syracuse, South Salt Lake, Murray, Orem, Provo, Boise, Las Vegas, Reno and Sacramento.
"We feel like we can compete with anybody," said Hymas. "We are confident of our abilities to do that and offer value to the customer."
Devon Gledhill, who will manage the new store with John Pinette, admitted to being a little nervous about opening the doors for the first time Wednesday.
"If I wasn’t, there would be a problem," he said. "You are always nervous about opening the doors for the first time."
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