CEDAR FALLS — A new, large furniture store has quietly opened at the end of one of the toughest years for businesses, but company officials say the furniture business is booming.
The 96,000-square foot Ashley Homestore unofficially opened recently in the former Younkers location in College Square Mall in Cedar Falls.
Despite everything seemingly conspiring against them, including COVID issues delaying the supply chain for furniture, general manager Mark Wilkinson said the store had “hit it out of the park” getting customers in the door.
“Today, with no advertising, it’s been a great day,” Wilkinson said Dec. 30, the first day the store was open to the public. “There have been a lot of people through, a lot of interest.”
The store — the ninth Ashley Homestore in Iowa and the first in Northeast Iowa — will hold a grand opening Jan. 26 and a ribbon cutting Feb. 10, according to Tom Kovash, vice president of the Ashley Homestore. Ashley Homestore is a division with Furniture Mart USA, which has a licensing agreement with Ashley and owns and operates 31 Midwest locations of the over 1,000 Ashley Homestores globally.
In 2018, Furniture Mart USA opened a $7.2 million Ashley Furniture distribution center at 2615 Capital Way, between Bossard-IIP and the Target Distribution Center. The 153,000-square foot warehouse serves Ashley Furniture stores in Iowa.
“We knew we were going to have a store there at some point,” Kovash said of Cedar Falls, after the distribution center was built. “We just didn’t know when.”
The company scouted locations for a much smaller, 25,000-square foot store, but found the former Younkers department store, which closed in 2018, was much larger — and less expensive. Kovash said his company also bought and converted an old Younkers in Coralville.
“They’re actually our largest Ashley Homestores in our company,” he said.
One of the biggest issues with a store this size is stocking it. In good years, it would take two to three weeks to get new product in, and that’s now taking three to four months, said Wilkinson. But he said Ashley’s status as one of the largest furniture dealers in the world is helping it get furniture faster than others.
“The small guys are getting hit hard. They can’t get product from anybody,” he said.
Demand hasn’t slowed, said Wilkinson. In fact, it’s grown by large margins.
“People are nesting more at the house, so the furniture industry is up by double digits — 50% at some manufacturers,” he said.
The Cedar Falls store was recommended for approval by the city’s planning and zoning commission in April 2019 and approved to start construction by the City Council in May 2019.
The original plans before the council called for 20 new jobs at the store, though Wilkinson said the plan now is for 12 full-time staff and two part-time positions — some of which he’s still hiring for.
“We’re always looking for good people,” he said.
Kovash said the large store is also better able to accommodate social distancing guidelines, creating a lower risk for spreading the coronavirus.
“This store is beautiful — absolutely stunning,” Wilkinson said, noting it carries a wide selection of furniture, accents and decor items. “It’s an inspirational place to come get ideas, and that’s why we’re here.”