April 26, 2010

'Make us an offer,' the Porters salesman said...


There was an air of melancholy at Porters of Racine today, the final day of the fine furniture emporium's going-out-of-business sale, the end of a 153-year history that during its prime had customers lined up around the block to see its room displays.

The irony is that Porters has been mobbed the last few weeks. Micah Waters, last generation of the store's owners, said -- with a wry smile and gallows humor -- "If we'd had 10% of this business, we wouldn't be closing."

A salesman who didn't want me to use his name said, "It's a shame we're going out like this." He'd been with the store for 18 years and said he won't think of the future until taking the summer off. Another salesman, this one planning to move to Florida, said customers -- even those who didn't shop at Porters before this final, price-busting sale -- aren't yet aware what they will miss. "Where our quality began, other stores' ended. But our reputation scared some customers away."

As customers wandered the store's three floors today, looking for that one final bargain, many shared stories of favorite pieces from past years. And it was hard to have a conversation about fine furniture without someone bringing up the Queen's Bed from the Titanic, which for a while had pride of place in the first floor showroom.

It wasn't really the Queen's bed. The queen -- we're talking about Queen Mary, wife of King George V of England, who took the throne in 1910, two years before the Titanic's maiden (and final) voyage -- never actually slept in it. The bed was in her stateroom on the Titanic but she -- luckily, as it turned out -- did not take the trip.

That original bed, we can assume, is at the bottom of the Atlantic. But a replica of the massive Victorian bed was for sale at Porters, with a pricetag over $20,000. The headboard alone -- ornate carvings, lots of gold leaf and all -- was some four feet by eight feet in size. That's one of the reasons it was displayed on the first floor and not with the other beds upstairs. Its size was also the reason why few could seriously consider it -- your house needed double-wide doors throughout, at least 45" wide, just to get that headboard inside.

And yet, it sold during this final sale. I heard two stories: One said that a couple from Milwaukee bought the bed. Another said the buyer was a Baptist minister. (The stories are not necessarily contradictory.) The price, reportedly, was about $7,500. The bed was at Porters less than eight months, according to a salesman.

That bed was a bargain compared to a beautifully inlaid dining room table and ten chairs on the second floor that I'd been watching (purely out of curiosity!) for a while. It started out at $131,000, and had a sales tag of $112,000. As of this afternoon, no buyer. Ditto for the matching china cabinet with its own $40,000-something price tag. A salesman told me the set had been on display for at least six years, "but although nobody bought it, we sold a lot off of it. It was the kind of thing people came to Porters to see." A customer who saw me looking at it noted that she'd bought her first house for less. Much less.

And so the sale wound to a close. A woman was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince her husband to buy a couple of chairs. A mother and daughter wandered around carrying a cushion from home, trying to match its fabric to a couch, any couch. They weren't having much luck. A man offered $700 for a cabinet that had a $2,700 sale price. The salesman called the stock number and customer's offer in to his manager. After a moment he looked up and said, "Congratulations."

And we had one more happy Porters customer.



Portraits of Porters early owners; that's Ted Gottlieb right, creator of the modern Porters on Sixth Street

22 comments:

  1. Where will remaining items go now? Thanks, Nick , for your many assists! (you know who :-)

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  2. Racine=Cheapskates

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  3. Too busy paying taxes.

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  4. Good luck to Micah and the rest of the staff. Porter's was a wonderful experience offering wonderful furniture. We are truly sad to see you go. There will "never" be another store like it.

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  5. Thank you for your wonderful contribution to Racine, Wisconsin. I agree Racine will never see a store of this quality ever again.

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  6. They should be playing "Those were the Days my Friend we thought they'd never end! On the streets of downtown Racine. What a sad day.

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  7. Anon 5:39 - Cheapskates? Really? In the context of Porter's I have to disagree.

    It was nice furniture, but not exactly in a price catagory that the vast, vasy majority of folks in the region could afford -- not even close. My entire furniture budget for my house probably would have been exhausted in a couple of pieces.

    Must be nice that you have such a fantastic job or inheritance that you could afford Porters' furniture. It was clearly not for the average (or even above average) Racinian. (Heck, probably less than 1 percent of folks in the community could probably afford it.)

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  8. 8:49 - I totally disagree. Over 30 years ago, my wife and I would save money and buy furniture one piece at a time. We by no means were rich, had fantastic jobs or had any inheritance. We knew good quality and saved until we could buy a piece at a time. We even started saving for our bedroom furniture a year before we were married. When we were married we had a bedroom set and one chair and added pieces as we went. We recently donated the bedroom furniture and we are still using some of the chairs and tables that were purchased. They sold quality furniture and style that lasted forever.

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  9. Porters building make a great bar. That's is the only thing you find Downtown bars and more bars.
    Very little to do in the day lots of bars at night.
    Party on!

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  10. 9:38 - be a little more imaginative - come up with your own closing.

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  11. Porters Condos

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  12. If Dickert was not such an utter failure this would not have happened.

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  13. If Dickert would have brought some jobs to Racine like he claimed that he would. Things like this wouldn't be happening. Persons collecting unemployment checks don't buy their furniture at Porter's. Could this be part of Dickert's TEN YEAR PLAN? Very posssible, close down every business in the city, then buy it all up for pennies on the dollar.

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  14. How many bars have opened Downtown vs retail?
    Is Downtown Racine going to be the place for every drunk to hang out at?
    What part of the 10 year plan is this? That's right there is no ten year plan. The plan is to give every crony a job and punish anyone that does not back Dickert.
    Yes Racine little Chicago

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  15. When 80% of your selection is god awful ugly crap at double and triple what it should cost you go out of businness. Good riddance scammers.

    No business = junk no one wants and/or overpriced.

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  16. 10:30 You are talking about Johnson's Furniture in West Racine. This article is about Porter's Furniture in Downtown Racine. Porter's is the place that sells high priced nice furniture.

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  17. Thank you Porters. We loved buying the furniture. Yes, in the beginning, we also would save all year to buy one pieces at a time. We still have it all. Thanks for the wonderful service, great styling. It was OUR pleasure to have been a customer.

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  18. Too bad they weren't as great as steinhafels...

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  19. The fact that they existed in this cheap a$$ town is amazing.

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  20. Before you plan too much for the building, which is really a combination of buildings, remember that one of the walls on the Wisconsin Street side started to collapse a few years ago. We walked through the store awhile back and it is a maze of uneven floors and just a really old combination of buildings. Sadly, it probably makes more sense to drop it and start over.

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  21. Your General Manager Tom was always a pleasure
    to work with when we came in. Be it our home
    in California or Illinois he always had his
    hand on the projects and the answers to our
    questions. We will truly miss Porters and of course Tom. Good Luck to his next position if he chooses to continue working.

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  22. I own this remarkable queen Mary bedroom with dresser and night stand and is for sale again info at jbcranesvc1@gmail.com

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