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End of an era

POSTED: April 25, 2013 8:31 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

David and Bonnie Gnann decided it was time to close Walt’s Furniture and Appliances in Springfield. The store has been in business for 58 years.

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What they will miss the most, more than anything else, David and Bonnie Gnann said, are their customers.


Their clientele at Walt’s Furniture and Appliances in Springfield has spanned generations of families. But in a few weeks, the Gnanns will lock the doors to Walt’s for the last time, with the final items of their stock having been sold.


“We’ve enjoyed doing business here for the last 58 years, and we’re going to miss our customers greatly,” said Bonnie Gnann. “That’s the main thing.”


Since Walt’s has been in business for nearly 60 years, it’s customer base has spanned generations. And generations of families have come there to buy their furniture, right down to young couples just starting out a life together.


That reach across the ages isn’t lost on the Gnanns.


“It’s four generations now,” Bonnie said. “It means everything. I think that’s what’s separated us from other stores. They knew they could get quality and they could service after the sale. You can’t get that from a 'big box.' It’s what’s made the relationship between us and our customers. They call me and I try to go, see what the problem is. It’s meant everything.”


Since the Gnanns announced they were ending their business, business has been strong and steady. Customers, new and old, have kept the Gnanns and their staff busy.


“It makes me feel better to know that they hate it as bad as we hate it. It demonstrates their loyalty. It shows what a close community and shows the rapport we’ve had with them for many, many years. I don’t think every store gets that when they close. I don’t think that’s the norm.”


“The customers have been fantastic,” Bonnie said. “We have been truly overwhelmed. They have come in in hordes. Anything from crying to ‘I’m so you’re mad you’re closing,’ they’re sad. It’s just a business decision at this time.”


David said coming to the decision to close the store after nearly six decades made him literally sick to his stomach.


“This is by far the most difficult decision we’ve made,” Bonnie said. “It took a long time. We probably should have come to it sooner. But we dug our fingernails in and tried not to do this.”


The collapse of the housing market in turn wiped out much of the homebuilding industry. That too led to tough times for furniture and appliance dealers who were used to stocking new homes. And Walt’s did a great deal of business in furnishings and flooring.


The Gnanns, though, were dismayed by the economy, and they said they didn’t see a rosier financial picture developing.


“After a while, you get to a point … I just don’t see the economic situation getting better quickly,” Bonnie said. “It’s been on a downturn for several years. It’s one thing when you know this coming year is going to be better. But right now, you don’t know that.”


Yet the doors to Walt’s won’t be closed and locked for several weeks. The workforce, once as many as 14, is now at six, but the Gnanns said those employees are committed to staying to the end.


Over the last week, they’ve been kept busy, too, constantly trekking across the 40,000 square foot store as customers look for deals and come to say good-bye.


“We’ve got a lot of salespeople with aching puppies,” Bonnie joked. “The turnout has been astounding. We’ve really been taken aback.”


The last television set and last appliance have been sold. The Gnanns won’t be restocking those items. But as long as the doors are open, they will be bringing in furniture to sell.


They thought they had nearly four weeks of furniture in the warehouse. After the first weekend following the announcement, the Gnanns re-stocked their items on the floor from the warehouse — and in the process, emptied the warehouse.


“We will be receiving trucks in daily to re-supply,” Bonnie said. “We’re hunting the deals and getting them shipped in as fast as we can right now. We’ve got trucks coming day and night.”


When the Gnanns finally do sell the last piece of furniture, they’re not sure what will be next for them.


“I don’t know what the future is going to bring,” Bonnie said. “We’ll be doing something. We’ll be working, one way or the other. Hopefully, we’ll get a few minutes off.”


The Gnanns also have put the building on the market, and Bonnie believes it will be a great opportunity for somebody. But it will be more than the building they’ll miss when they close the doors for the last time.


“We’re going to miss our customers, so, so much,” Bonnie said, “more than they know. They need to know what a pleasure it has been to serve them and what a blessing it’s been. We appreciate them so much.”

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