Owner Jerry Nowell, who was diagnosed with Multiple Myaloma in 2010, announced the closing recently.
“I'm now unable to work,” Jerry said. “At first, we thought my wife [Kit] would run the store. And she has since March of this year. But we did some soul searching and realized that we wanted to spend some time together. Retail is a seven-days-a-
William McKee Nowell, Jerry’s grandfather, began the store 1905 by selling furniture out of the back of a horse-drawn cart. His merchandise was so popular that he moved it into a storefront in the now-historic Prairie Building in downtown Raleigh. Jerry’s mother and father inherited the store and moved it to its current location in Cary in 1957.
Since then, there have been a lot of “firsts” in store’s history. In 1968, Nowell’s was the first furniture store in the Triangle region to challenge the “blue laws.” The blue laws were enacted to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship, restricting Sunday shopping. Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture helped start a movement to remove those laws in North Carolina.
“We were also among the first in the area -- possibly the first -- to have a diverse sales team,” Jerry noted. “We were also the first all-contemporary furniture store in North Carolina.”
Jerry Nowell holds a PhD in Political Theory. He was teaching at UNC-Greensboro in 2001 when his older brother, who had been running the store since their father’s retirement, suddenly decided to retire himself. That presented the Nowell family with a choice: either close up shop right then or Jerry would have to come home and take over management.
“I set a goal to get to the 100-year mark, which we did in 2005,” Jerry said.
And they kept going, racking up Readers Poll wins for the “best place to shop for contemporary furniture in the Triangle” year after year from Spectator magazine, the Independent Weekly, and Metro Magazine. In 2010, Business Leader magazine named Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture one of the top 100 small businesses in the state.
Since Jerry took over management, the store has also been a good corporate citizen. “We’ve raised and donated roughly $30,000 over the past 11 years to organizations such as Interact, cancer research, and Camp Kanata,” Jerry said. “We've also sponsored a little league team.”
Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture has also been one of Triangle Modernist Houses’ (TMH) primary sponsors. TMH is a non-profit organization dedicated to archiving, preserving and promoting modernist residential design from the 1950s to today. Among other support, Nowell’s has been the naming sponsor for TMH’s annual Nowell’s Architecture Movie Series, and Jerry Nowell has served on the TMH advisory board.
Jerry has also served on the Cary Players’ Board of directors, allowed the community theater troupe to store props in Nowell’s warehouse and to use the store’s truck to load shows in an out, and the store has been a consistent advertiser in the Players’ programs.
After Jerry was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, he kept working as long as he could. But his treatments eventually made it impossible for him to keep up with the seven-day-a-
Kit Nowell took over for a while. But according to Jerry, there was more to their decision to close than his health and the store’s demanding schedule.
“We've also found the business moving in a direction that we don't really like,” he admitted. “We've always offered good values, but we've never sacrificed quality or service for price. People are getting more and more price conscious now, to the point that we either must lower the level of quality or the level of service, and we don't want to do that. We knew that if it reached the point where we could no longer be proud of what we do it would be time to retire. And that's where we are.”
From now until the end of the year, Nowell’s is holding an “Everything Must Go” sale. For more information on the sale, go to http://www.nowellsfurniture.com.