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Gibbard Furniture to close next year PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael J. Knell   

NAPANEE, Ontario - After 173 years, the Gibbard Furniture Shoppes of Napanee, Canada's oldest furniture maker and one of the oldest continuously operating companies in North America will close its doors sometime early next year, the latest victim of a surging Canadian dollar, increased competition from Asian imports and the inability to find new owners.

Company president Bruce McPherson, Jr. broke the news to the company's 90 or so remaining employees last Friday. Many of them had been working in the plant for 35 or 40 years. "Friday was very emotional," he said. "Telling them was the toughest part of this thing."

The McPherson family, which has owned Gibbard since 1940, decided to put up the company up for sale in June 2007 in the hopes that new investment and management would give the traditional high-end heirloom case goods producer a renewed marketing and product strategy and with that the chance to survive. "However, we learned that trying to sell a furniture factory in the current environment is a pretty difficult thing to do," McPherson said in a telephone interview.

The family also wanted it to remain in Canadian hands.

McPherson said there had some interest expressed, but the right offer never appeared. "We've been told it's quite a complement to get that considering the way things are," McPherson said.

However, continuing decline sales forced the company to make a decision. "We couldn't keep waiting and waiting," McPherson said.

At one time, Gibbard had a network of 107 retailers across the country, including Eaton's, which was counted once - even though it had almost 100 stores across the country at one time. Gibbard was on the floor at every Eaton's with a furniture department.

Currently, Gibbard has approximately 60 active retail accounts. All were told about the closure after the employees were told. One of Gibbard's largest and most consistent customers has been the federal government. Gibbard signature cherry and mahogany furniture is featured in almost every Canadian embassy around the world.

"Quality is what we've hung our hat on all these years," McPherson said, adding he still receives two or three telephone or e-mails every week from a consumer wanting information about how to care for a Gibbard piece they inherited from a family member. Often the piece was made before the Second World War.

Some items in Gibbard's line - such as Canadian Legacy - have been best sellers for a half-century or more.

The shutdown will be staggered as the company will fill existing orders. "We put in our final cutting two weeks ago. That will balance our inventory," McPherson said. "We should be able to move our remaining inventory fairly well."

Although Gibbard is still operating its showroom at the International Centre in Toronto, no decision has yet been made about whether the company will be open during next January's Canadian Home Furnishings Market. McPherson said that decision will be based on sales over the next couple of months.

The company was founded in 1835 by John Gibbard, a Canadian-born cabinet-maker who leased a mill on a canal that still runs through the property.

In its early days, it was known as the Gibbard Cabinet Shop and in addition to making furniture, it was also known for its doors and coffins. The original mill burned down in 1864 and was rebuilt four years later.

A second fire ravaged the business in 1974, but the plant was rebuilt in less than a year.

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