Erickson Furniture: 100-year-old family business

EVERETT — Erickson Furniture has survived fires, wars, depressions and recessions to become one of the oldest businesses in Snohomish County continuously owned by the same family.

“It hasn’t been easy,” said fourth-generation co-owner Clay Erickson. “Many people don’t realize that the furniture industry was hardest hit by the recession. Over 30 percent of independent furniture stores in the West went out of business.”

The furniture business is related to the economy. Fewer houses being sold mean fewer houses to be furnished, and people tend to put off buying replacement furniture when money is tight.

But Erickson Furniture has made it through the century mark, thanks to many happy repeat customers. Some of these go back multiple generations. One of Clay Erickson’s favorite mementoes is a sales receipt from 1932 written by his great-grandfather to his wife’s grandfather. “For a whole houseful of furniture — just $335,” Erickson said.

Erickson’s great-grandfather was August Erickson, one of Everett’s early residents. In 1898, less than 10 years after the city was incorporated, the Swedish immigrant and his wife, Stina, began life together in the city. They owned the land around 16th Street from Walnut Street to the Snohomish River.

August Erickson was an entrepreneur, Clay Erickson said. He started up what is thought to be the first dairy in Everett and also sold supplies to local miners. In the summer of 1911, August Erickson opened the store that would one day become Erickson Furniture. For record-keeping purposes, the store’s official opening is listed as 1912.

Back then, Ericksons’ was more of a mercantile and sold everything from brooms to rocking chairs. August’s three sons, Phil, Joe and Rosie, helped in the store after school. The boys were the delivery team.

“Dad told me that Grandpa delivered things in a wheelbarrow after school,” Clay Erickson said. “Cars were new things back then.”

The three boys eventually took over the store in 1927. That’s when the business really expanded. A new delivery truck was purchased. The brothers also devised a gimmick for their customers — credit cards.

“Before there were credit cards, we had them,” Clay Erickson said.

The emphasis on furniture dates back to the second generation of Ericksons. Phil Erickson met the founder of La-Z-Boy while on a vacation cruise. The relationship allowed Erickson’s to become the first dealer of La-Z-Boy recliners west of the Mississippi River.

“We were the largest independent La-Z-Boy dealer on the West Coast,” Clay Erickson said.

Rosie Erickson, who is remembered in the family as the first Eagle Scout in Snohomish County, was Frigidaire Salesman of the Year in 1934.

By the 1940s, Erickson Furniture had expanded to three locations in Everett. There was the main store on the corner of Hewitt and Lombard avenues, an annex on Broadway and a specialty store that carried colonial-style furniture at the corner of Broadway and Hewitt Avenue. For a time, there also was a store in Mount Vernon.

The third generation of Ericksons probably remains known to many longtime Snohomish County residents. Jim and Don Erickson, along with sister Mary Elaine Burgess, took over in the mid-1960s. Through the 1960s, Erickson Furniture was the Northwest’s largest supplier of Frigidaire appliances and Karastan carpets. Like their parents, Jim, Don and Mary were active in the community, Clay Erickson said. Jim Erickson, father of present-day owners Clay and Mark Erickson, was president of the Everett Boys &Girls Club.

But time and tastes were changing. The demand for colonial-style furniture faded, so the Ericksons closed the colonial outlet to focus on contemporary products from La-Z-Boy, Thomasville and Broyhill. In 1980, a fire, thought to have been started by vagrants, destroyed the main store. All sales operations were moved to the Broadway annex.

By 1985, the third generation had decided to split up and had a going-out-of-business sale. The next year, Jim, Clay and Mark Erickson reopened Ericksons’ down the street at 2015 Broadway, where it stands today. Jim Erickson retired in 1992 and has since died.

Now another generation of Erickson ownership is up and coming.

“Chad is the fifth generation, and he’s now on the sales floor,” Clay Erickson said of his nephew.

Clay Erickson’s children, Sydney and Jackson, follow in the footsteps of their adolescent Erickson forebears by helping out occasionally with the store’s biggest single task — dusting all of that display furniture. Sydney, now 12, sold her first piece of furniture, a Tempur-Pedic mattress, when she was just 10.

“She’s a very outgoing young lady,” Clay Erickson said of Sydney and her mattress sale.

Clay Erickson is optimistic about the future of the family business. He plans to remodel the outside of the store this summer in honor of the business’s centennial. A sale will accompany that event, and a bigger sale will follow in October, he said.

Erickson believes it takes more than sales to make a successful business. He credits his family’s ongoing success to good customer service and an excellent staff. Those are two things he doesn’t plan on changing.

“We pride ourselves on customer service and making the customers as happy as we can,” he said. “As the economy gets better, we’ll see how things grow.”

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