By LYDIA BERGLAR
This month marks Gross Furniture’s 75th anniversary, making it Trenton’s oldest existing business.
(Two other long-standing businesses, Moore Funeral Home and Suggs Propane Gas Co., are not far behind Gross Furniture.)
Today, Stan and Gary Gross carry on the family business which their grandfather, H.E. Gross, purchased in July of 1948 from the Dyer family. Originally called Dyer Mercantile Company, the store sold appliances, hardware, other home goods, clothes, and even toys in addition to furniture.
When Gross bought the store, he renamed it Gross Mercantile. It eventually became Gross Furniture as the other departments were dropped.
Before the rise of malls and when regular drives to Chattanooga weren’t as common, the mercantile was quite important to the community. Gary said, “Back in those days, you didn’t have the mall, and you didn’t have Lowes, Home Depot, Costco, and all that. A mercantile was where you went for your hardware, clothes, home furnishings. They generally had a little of everything.”
The building was originally constructed in 1939 for the Dyer company. While the purchase of the business occurred in 1948, the building wasn’t sold until a couple years later. Gary and Stan’s father, Don, and their uncle, Harold, joined H.E. in running the store and making deliveries. (Don served in the United States Air Force and joined the family business in 1952.)
Gary recalled, “My grandaddy was one of these guys who wore a tie every day. He was in his office, doing his book work. He worked on the floor some, but working the floor was mostly Daddy and Uncle Harold.”
Don and Harold took over the business from H.E. around 1970, and after Harold died in 1979, Don bought the entire business from his brother’s family.
Community member Donna Street fondly remembers buying her first pair of denim jeans at the mercantile just before starting her freshman year of high school. She recalled, “I bought off-white Lee jeans and a maroon and white gingham shirt to match Dade’s school colors. Back then, girls couldn’t wear pants to school, so I wore this outfit to the football games.”
The Street family eventually bought the hardware section of the store, so Donna remembers working there quite a bit while growing up. She continued, “I bought everything I needed at Gross: my first TV, my first washer and dryer, and all my furniture.”
Gary and Stan also grew up at the store. Stan recalled, “When we was kids, we’d be playing in the neighborhood, riding bikes, and if we seen Mother driving through real slow, we knew somebody didn’t show up for work.” He joked, “At a little older than 10, it was early child abuse. When we got older, we’d hop in the truck with the delivery people. Most of the time, we liked it.”
After graduating high school, (Gary in 1974 and Stan in 1975), both completed a year of school at Walker Tech. Gary said, “I don’t know that we thought we had a choice about joining the family business. We were coming here after school, working on Saturdays, and working through the summers in our teenage years.”
The brothers bought the business from their father in 2008, but Don stayed actively involved at the store until early 2020, so much so that many customers thought he still owned it.
The brothers reflected on how consumer habits have changed. While Christmas used to be a busy time for the store, customers now make purchases at any time in the year. Stan recalled being at the store well past 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve in the 1970s and 1980s. He said, “Back then, people would wait to buy. They’d put new purchases off until Christmas as Christmas presents. Now, when people want something, they go buy it.”
Kathy Gossett remembers the excitement of Midnight Madness sales when she was growing up. She said, “Leading up to Christmas, Midnight Madness would happen in the whole Gross Shopping Center.”
Online purchases and easier access to Chattanooga and surrounding towns have impacted how people buy furniture. Gary said, “Shopping is different because people can now pick the styles they want online, look up what the manufacturers have, and then shop to see what they can find. We still do a lot of special orders.” Stan added, “I think it’s just got easier. Going back and forth to Chattanooga is a common thing now, whereas it wasn’t so much in the early years.”
Gary continued, “We’ll lean on our sales reps for trends and colors. Years ago, we basically wouldn’t order anything until our sales reps physically came into the store. Now, if you want a suite in a different color, we can just write it up and fax or email it to the company.”
He said that while appliances are fairly straightforward and quick purchases, customers will spend weeks or months considering which furniture styles and colors they want while perusing current styles. He added that over the years, reclining furniture has seen a major increase. Stationary furniture used to dominate the market.
When asked about the secret to business longevity, Stan replied, “We focus on taking care of what we sell and taking care of the customers.” The business regularly delivers within a 30-mile radius and occasionally further away.
With changes in the furniture industry, shifts in consumer habits, and a younger generation that doesn’t plan to continue the family business, the future of Gross Furniture is uncertain. Gary explained, “Our kids all have good jobs with insurance and benefits. You don’t get that as small business owners.”
For now, the brothers continue to run the store and make deliveries.