A mainstay for nearly five decades along South Main and Belvidere streets in Nazareth plans to close shop permanently in June.
Nazareth Furniture, 75 S. Main St., is selling off all its pieces at discount prices.
Employees last week said a mailer was distributed to local residents in mid-March, and a public announcement was made about a week ago.
Owner Judy Dech, who has overseen the business since the death of her father Warren Dech in 2011, is planning to retire, workers said.
The scene one day last week was one of hustle and bustle as customers inquired about various pieces and salespeople tried to seal deals. Visitors have been traveling from across Pennsylvania and other states upon hearing about the closure, said an employee who didn’t want to be named.
For co-workers, it’s a somber time.
“Everyone is sad to see it go; we’ve had many customers,” she said. “Some have told us most of their house came from here and they want that last piece of furniture for the house.”
All furniture is being sold as is and all sales are final.
A salesman said some furniture is discounted as much as 60 percent and he expects any remaining inventory to be discounted even deeper as the final days in June approach.
Bill Hontz, an employee for about 40 years, said inventory isn’t even close to being sold out. The store has a “brand new merchandise” warehouse off-site filled with furniture that will replace pieces being sold off the floor, he said.
About 10 employees learned of the business closure in recent months, but they said it wasn’t a surprise. They knew the owner was planning her retirement for some time, an employee said.
Judy Dech didn’t respond to interview requests for this story, but employees said she worked tirelessly for years. She started working at the store in her college years.
Getting a facelift
Once the doors close on the more than 40,000-square-foot, five-story building, a new business venture is expected to begin.
Stephanie Varone, Nazareth downtown manager, said plans already are in the works for either a single, larger restaurant on the main floor or a mixture of smaller eateries and boutiques. A lower level below the main floor is completely refinished and also can be used for commercial space, she said.
Jay Orwig, owner of the building who operates his property management business under the name J+R Orwig Properties LLC, is planning to fully renovate the three floors above the main floor into luxury apartments.
Orwig said he wants to construct eight, 936-square-foot apartments on each floor. All would overlook the downtown area.
Orwig also wants to install a service elevator and possibly surround the building with patio space for outdoor dining. A parking lot would be built at the back of the building for apartment tenants.
Orwig and his wife, Rebecca, about five years ago began buying aging borough properties in a multimillion-dollar plan to transform the sites into more modern, vibrant apartments and commercial spaces.
Among their many purchases are 49-55 S. Main St., 56-62 S. Main St., 40-48 S. Main St., 108-112 S. Main St., 164-166 S. Main St., the building housing Emily’s Ice Cream and a property on Belvidere Street.
Orwig in 2013 had been eying the exterior of Nazareth Furniture for a facelift, but was waiting on Judy Dech’s plans, he said. The goal always was to keep the historic character of the building while updating the facade. The first building on the site was an inn that dates to 1770.
The Orwigs own 15 buildings and 127 apartment units in Nazareth.
The downtown manager said the Orwigs have come far, adapting and reusing most of the space. Varone said she’s eager to see the transformation of the Nazareth Furniture site.
“When I think of that historic building, I reminisce and envision days where Nazareth is a lively downtown with people dining outside under umbrella tables or at night in the large windows by candlelight,” she said. “And then shopping the downtown businesses and enjoying this quaint, gorgeous town again.”
Orwig has submitted his plans to Al Kortze, borough engineer, for review. Kortze could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The building has deep historical roots.
Initially constructed in 1771, it was a log cabin. In the 1800s, it became the Nazareth Inn and a place for parents to stay while visiting their sons at the Nazareth Hall Boarding School. Later, it was a hangout for cement mill workers and a traditional place for church-goers to visit for after-service chicken and waffles.
In the 1900s, the building expanded to include the five stories. Warren Dech bought the building in 1968 and operated a bar on the lower level before it became Nazareth Furniture.
Warren Dech also had owned Nazareth Hardware with his father, Warren Dech Sr., prior to the 1968 purchase. The hardware store eventually was sold by the elder Dech in the 1990s.
Customers who visited the furniture store still were able to catch glimpses of what the building looked like in its early years. The fireplace in one of the showrooms had the date, “1772,” and a switchboard from the inn remained in a private office. Tin ceilings also remained intact.
Orwig said he hopes to preserve historical components in the remodel.
“It should stay as original as possible,” he said. “That’s the plan.”