Israels Revives Furniture City

March 30, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — After months of demographic studies, property searches and a lot of business analysis, work on the $6 million renovation of the former Rogers Department Store gets under way this week.

Israels Designs for Living President and CEO Robert Israels plans to turn the 28th Street SW location into showroom space for the Klingman Furniture Co., a fine furniture retailer he bought in January.

Relocating Klingman’s to the new site will give it about 60,000 more square feet of showroom space than it has in its longtime location in Centerpointe Mall at 28th Street and East Beltline Avenue.

“I have these demographic studies that tell me the southwest end of Grand Rapids is going to be a big market for the lakeshore and for Chicago, so I think I would like Klingman’s in the Rogers store,” he said.

Israels said 40 high-end furniture stores in the Chicago area closed over the past year, as sales in that market have seemingly turned to less costly merchandise. But he said Chicago still has plenty of buyers that want the high-quality pieces his businesses, including Klingman’s, sell.

“It’s a $100 million market and there is hardly anyone servicing it, and it’s just right around the corner from Grand Rapids. This store is so huge, we can put every line into it. We have to do a $6 million renovation,” he said.

“We’re going to do some really fancy pillars and stuff for an entrance. Then we’re going to build a whole new exterior façade for each side of the building. We’re going to do show windows so you’ll be able to see right into the store. On the west side, we’re putting in show windows and more greenscape, and on the north side we’re adding a gigantic show window there and also some shipping and logistics stuff.

“The whole inside of the store is getting a new facelift.”

Mark Post of Post Associates Inc. is designing the work and Erhardt Construction Co. is managing the 150,000-square-foot project.

Israels told the Business Journal that he first looked into buying the department store space in 2005 as an investment but he changed his mind. A drive back from the airport a few Saturdays ago, though, took him past the vacant store. Israels noticed the Rogers sign had been removed and replaced by a number to call for sales information, so he called. That phone conversation led him to look at a few surrounding properties, and before he knew it, he closed on the store site and the other parcels.

“I got everything else I needed to develop there,” he said.

That plan for development includes some “quality senior housing,” because Israels said there is a need for those residences in Wyoming, the host city for the store property and surrounding parcels. Some green space and a park along 28th Street at the east side of the site are also in the works.

“I want to have a park there all the way up to Riley Street,” he said.

But portions of Klingman’s will also be in other locations. Israels said the store will have a presence in Lansing as he plans to move into the building that was home to Ethan Allen Furniture there. As the same time, the Klingman’s interior design department will take up residence on the fourth floor of Israels’ South Widdicomb building at 600 Fifth St. NW.

Israels explained that about 70 percent of Klingman’s sales are made on the showroom floor, while 30 percent of sales are custom ordered through the firm’s designers — which is the exact opposite of the sales breakdown for Israels Designs for Living. So he didn’t see a need to keep the Klingman’s designers at the retail location.

Israels said he had to move Klingman’s from Centerpointe Mall because the rent was four times higher than the lengthy lease the retailer had. The current lease ends at the end of May.

“Klingman’s will have every line that’s out there because the new place is going to be so huge. We’re adding about 60,000 more square feet of showroom than they presently have, so it’s going to be a whale of an opportunity,” he said.

The former Dreuke Gaming Co. building at 601 Third St. NW, part of the complex Israels has built on the city’s near west side over the past five years, was also thought of as a possible site for Klingman’s. The plan for the structure remains the same — to renovate and expand it — and work is set to get started on that project in August.

Israels said a national sports apparel retailer based in New York has expressed an interest in locating in the Dreuke, a potential tenant that emerged from the months of study that went into finding a home for Klingman’s.

“They’re talking to me right now about taking 100,000 square feet,” he said.

“We’ve had a massive amount of challenges lately and they’re all coming together,” he added.

“There are a lot of wonderful people working to make things happen.”

Now that Klingman’s has joined Israels Designs for Living, Israels has 33 firms under his umbrella worldwide — and big hopes in his heart for more success.

“We will have 400,000 square feet of showroom space in Grand Rapids,” said Israels of his holdings once the Klingman’s store opens in the early fall. “If this doesn’t draw people back to Grand Rapids for furniture, I don’t know what will.”

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