BAY CITY, MI — There was a time, not too long ago, where furniture shopping was an experience.
You set time aside in your day and carefully curated pieces for your living room or bedroom. It required a stop into an actual brick-and-mortar furniture store, where, in most cases, the owners were on a first name basis with their longtime customers.
“Business was booming and it was a lot of fun back then,” said Jay Pearsall, who, along with his wife Mary, have owned and operated Utermalen Furniture at 914 N. Johnson Street for the past 17 years.
But times have changed. Like most businesses, the housing crash of 2008 wreaked havoc on local furniture shops, including Utermalens. And the ease of online furniture shopping forced brick-and-mortar retailers to either adapt or give up their business to the big regional or national companies.
Facing those challenges, the Pearsalls have decided to retire from the industry and close Utermalen Furniture, a business that has called Bay City home since 1900. In mid-January, the Essexville couple sold their inventory to Frankenmuth-based Rau Management, which has been selling the remaining pieces at discounted prices by appointments only for the past couple of weeks.
At 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2, the going-out-of-business retirement sale officially opens to the public. Jay Pearsall expects the doors to remain open for the next couple of months before it officially closes. The four-story building, at Johnson and Fourth streets, is now for sale, he said.
“It’s no secret that the retail climate has changed,” said his wife Mary Pearsall on their decision to retire from the business. “The millennial generation are online shoppers, and they don’t want the type of items we’ve always offered — the higher-end, higher-quality pieces.”
Since opening at its Johnson Street location in 1900, Utermalon has been synonymous with quality furniture pieces, carrying brands like, Baker, Herzog, Murphy Chair and Stenglein.
According to media reports on the longtime business, founder Louis E. Utermalen’s son, William Albert Wendt, closed the store during World War II because he was not able to purchase merchandise up to the standard his father set.
The store was opened by Louis and Margaret Utermalen, who had two daughters, Matilda and Ella. Ella married William Albert Wendt and the couple took over the store. Their son, William, and his wife, Martha, took it over in 1948.
Mary Pearsall, who studied interior design in college, grew professionally at the furniture store, beginning in 1974. She helped designed the store’s popular window displays, in addition to selling pieces.
After purchasing the business in 1990, Mary Pearsall focused on which pieces to buy and designing the store’s layout and display windows. Her husband, who studied business at Central Michigan University, handled the business side of the operation.
The couple, both in their mid-60s, have started thinking about what life looks like in retirement. Mary Pearsall said she’s not ready to stop working and is actively looking for a job. Her husband hopes to perfect his golf game once the weather warms up. They also plan to visit their son who works in Virginia.
“The first 12 to 14 years, was a lot of fun,” Jay Pearsall said. “Since 2008, 2009, it’s been stressful. So, we’re looking forward to retirement.”
The store is going to be open, Monday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.