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.
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.
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