South County Section: Chariho Furniture
Ed Smith, owner of Chariho Furniture, is cheerful and charismatic, nothing short of a buoyant carnival barker. Think Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill. No, wait. Think Gordon McRae as Billy Bigelow. Ed Smith is a handsome guy and at age 47 looks 10 years younger.
Smith loves what he does and when he leans forward, forearms on his desk, and extols the virtues of tiger maple wood or praises the artistry practiced by the Amish, he’s got you.
Smith sells wood furniture, make that American-made wood furniture. The best. “I’m a furniture snob,” he says. “Don’t let me near a piece with cardboard backing or a drawer without English dovetail construction. And upholstery? Nothing less than eight-way hand-tied, coil spring.”
Ed learned about furniture making deliveries in high school. “I liked the business and I liked wood. So just after I was married, I put together wedding gifts along with some help from my folks and about 25 years ago opened up a furniture store.”
He found an old building, vintage 1919, a stone’s throw from his home in Hope Valley at the junction of Routes 138 and 112 and started selling nothing but wood furniture. “I decided on wood almost immediately and we’ve stuck with that part of the market. It’s worked out. Now I’ve got four interior designers who know how to arrange quality wood furniture into a first class arrangement.”
Smith’s animated, rapid-fire account is interrupted. “You meant to say ‘American-made wood furniture,’ right?”
He laughs. “Right. Look, I’ve seen products made with Asian wood. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, for example. Ours is simply better quality. It doesn’t just look better. It’s made better. Before companies began out-sourcing to Asia, the best furniture in the world was made in places like High Point, North Carolina.”
So where does he find American-made furniture now? In Amish country, throughout various counties in Illinois and Ohio.
Smith explains that although many manufacturers have shut down, North Carolina is still the hub of the furniture industry. “I go down every year or so to High Point for the International Furniture Market that brings together over two thousand vendors. I heard about the Amish and checked it out. Now I’m a regular there. Those folks are true artists working in small communities making absolutely beautiful furniture.”
Furniture is not the only reason Ed likes visiting Amish country. “I really enjoy the people. Love the food, too. What you’ve heard is true. It’s simple, it’s quiet. No phones. And no alcohol. Last time I was in one of my favorite villages near Mount Hope, Ohio, they asked me if I wanted to join them in a game of bocce. I said ‘Sure, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever played without a beer in one hand.’ ”
Ed Smith and Chariho Furniture are weathering the recession in decent shape. “Things are looking up,” Ed says. “Last year, we bumped up by 16 percent. And I’m convinced it’s because we stuck to the plan. American-made wood. I was determined that nothing would come to us on a ship.”
Another reason he’s survived this slide in the economy is that there’s still a market for high-end, quality furniture. The wood furniture in the Chariho Furniture showroom is, even to a layman’s eye, beautiful. It’s also expensive.
Is Block Island a good market for Ed’s furniture? “Without question. I love the island and I love those beautiful homes.” Ed leans forward, smiling. “And we’ve got the styles and quality those homes deserve.”
Chariho Furniture is located at 10 Richmond Townhouse Road at the junction of Routes 112 and 138, about a 15-minute drive from the junction of Routes 1 and 112. Call (401) 539-9043, fax (401) 539-9045 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The showroom is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Thursday until 7 p.m.) and on Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.