A lot of furniture stores celebrate 10-year anniversaries. If they’re lucky enough, they’re still around to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Only a small handful can boast of 100 years.
And then there’s Leopold’s Furniture, which later this year will mark its 160th year of selling furniture in Brecksville, Ohio. That’s right – 30 U.S. presidents ago and two years before a civil war broke out, Henry Leopold, a German immigrant, opened his own furniture store.
Today the store is run by two men, fifth-generation owner Mark Lutz and sixth-generation owner Chad Leopold. There’s no official documentation pointing to Leopold’s being the oldest furniture retailer in the country, but the Home Furnishings Association member boasts unblushingly of the title just the same. And no other retailer has stepped up to disprove it.
The oldest HFA member?
“We’ve done as much research as we can and we think we’re the oldest,” says Lutz. “Not that we’ve done a lot of research. We’re busy enough trying to make it to 161.”
Henry Leopold opened his shop six years after arriving in Cleveland. He spent those six years paying off the $41 debt for his passage to this country working as a cabinet maker before finally raising enough money open a small furniture store. As Lutz tells it, because his great-great-grandfather did not have the capital to invest in ready-made furniture, he made his own in the store basement along with caskets, his staple item. He sold both to the immigrants who settled in the neighborhood. The family has been selling furniture ever since.
Lutz has been part of the business for 46 years. He went to college to study accounting and marketing but fell in love with working with his father and decided to go into the family business. “There was just something special about working alongside him. It was pretty cool having the same passion as him, working alongside him, enjoying ourselves knowing this was our business and we were making it grow.”
An amazing find
Stay in business for 160 years and you’re bound to rack up a few stories. Lutz likes to tell the tale of an antiques dealer in Tampa, Fla., calling him out of the blue one day. Turns out the dealer had a chest of drawers he was about to put in his store. One of the drawers had words scribbled in it in pencil by Henry Leopold indicating it was one of the first pieces he created.
As luck would have it, Lutz and his wife were heading down to Florida later that month for vacation. They stopped by the antique dealer’s shop to examine the piece. The dealer sold them the chest for a modest price and the Lutzes had it shipped home. Today it’s a nice conversation piece in the family store. “People like to touch it, and open it up to see the craftsmanship,” says Lutz.
Invoices from the past
The chest isn’t the only item in the store with a nod to Leopold’s past. A yellowed receipt lists a six-foot dining table sold for $5, four chairs for $1.68 and a rocking chair for $4. It’s dated Sept. 29, 1859, and signed personally by Henry Leopold. “People bring these kinds of treasures into us all the time, like old invoices they found in their parents’ attics,” says Lutz.
An anniversary party at Leopold’s is planned for after High Point market in October. Vendors, manufacturers and sales reps will be invited and then it’s back to business as usual. “We’ll have some fun and celebrate,” says Lutz. “We’re very grateful.”