Dinah, a white, 11-year-old Labrador-Pyrenees mix, is quite the center of attention at Thomas’ Ethan Allen Interiors. She normally hangs out by the furniture store’s front door.
“We have people who come specifically to visit with her,” said Marianne Yurkee McKinley, one of the store’s design consultants.
“I have one customer who comes with her husband,” said Anadara Braun-Good, another design consultant. “She comes to shop, and her husband comes to see Dinah. He will lay on the floor with her, curl up with her and take a nap.”
Craig Thomas, co-owner of the store, said Dinah visits with her friend Gus, a 7- or 8-year-old Staffordshire Terrier mix, about once a week. They are both rescue pets and well-known to the customers who love to pet them while trying to find the right furniture piece for their home.
Since March 5, Dinah, Gus and the staff at the Ethan Allen store at the corner of Oak and Elm streets have been celebrating the store’s 50th anniversary. It’s been a quiet affair, said Bill Thomas, who opened the store in 1962 when it was known as Thomas’ Ethan Allen Gallery.
“We have not hosted any big celebrations,” he said.
Bill Thomas, then 35, said he never really thought he would own a furniture store. Prior to acquiring the store, he worked as a wholesale distributor covering North Texas and southern Oklahoma. The job included lots of travel and dealing with the owners of hardware stores, furniture stores and lumberyards.
One day he went to the Ethan Allen store and spoke to the owner, who asked him to bring his wife, Janie, to the store’s liquidation sale. It was there, he said, where he began to think about possibly taking over the store. The store, he said, has been at the same location since 1949 — 13 years before he took over.
“I had been traveling for 12 years and wanted to get off the road,” he said. “I was driving between 50,000 and 60,000 [miles] per year.”
Bill Thomas then talked to a local banker who informed him he did not have enough equity to get a loan, he recalled.
“He told me to go see my next-door neighbor, a pharmacist, and I told him what I found,” Bill Thomas said. “That is how I started.”
Bill Thomas, now 85, calls his furniture business wonderful and challenging but also frustrating at times.
“One thing I learned is that every year we have a presidential election, business is off,” Thomas said. “I can shut my eyes and look at my books and tell which year is an election year. It is weird. I did not know at first, but then I started seeing it every five years. Like a roller coaster you go down and up, and you have to prepare for that.”
Even with its off years, Thomas’ Ethan Allen keeps a steady clientele. The store now serves second- and third-generation customers who say the furniture is so well made it lasts forever.
Sherry Walker, a customer of 20 years, said the only reason she gave up her first Ethan Allen purchase — the family couch — was because it underwent extraordinary circumstances.
“I had a squirrel go inside the couch. The couch was still brand-new, but I had to replace it last year,” she said. “There was nothing to get rid of the smell.”
After being away from home for two weeks, she said, she noticed some items in her home were a bit displaced, and then one day a bad smell came out of the couch. There was nothing she could do but replace it.
She replaced it with another Ethan Allen couch, she said.
Walker’s longstanding Ethan Allen pieces include a 1974 dining room and just about every other piece of furniture in her home. She said Braun-Good has helped her for many years and is presently helping her update her den and breakfast room and added valances and drapes to her bathroom. She said redecorating her home has been an ongoing project for the past three years.
Braun-Good, who has been with the store for 25 years, said Ethan Allen customers vary.
“There are older clients who want very traditional pieces and are still upset that Ethan Allen discontinued Antique Pine and Heirloom Maple from 70 years ago,” she said. “There are people that are looking for contemporary pieces or minimalist pieces or transitional pieces. It depends on the client.”
Braun-Good said being an interior designer is sort of acting like a doctor and asking a lot of questions in order to find out what the client really needs.
“I am a guide. I am not going to make decisions for them. I am here to help them narrow down their choices because they have countless decisions,” she said. “It can be daunting for some people.”
Charldean Newell, who first bought an Ethan Allen piece — a room-size braided rug — in the late 1960s, said she doesn’t like shopping and considers herself an impatient shopper.
She said Braun-Good has worked with her to combine the old with the new throughout her house.
“They are really nice people, very helpful and they know what they are doing,” Newell said about the staff at Ethan Allen.
Cheryl Kesterson, another customer, said the Ethan Allen experience can be described as the “way customer service used to be.” All the staff is focused on ensuring customer satisfaction.
For her major home renovation during the spring of 2011, Kesterson worked with McKinley, who made it a point to visit her home at least four times. Thomas’ Ethan Allen provides house calls, something it has been doing since the store changed hands 50 years ago. That way employees can help customers with their selections.
“If Marianne is not there, Anadara will help, and vice versa,” she said. “They are wonderful to work with.”
Kesterson said the staff at the store will not sell an item for the sake of selling it. The design consultants evaluate the client’s home and try to help them find pieces that work well together.
When she was looking for a bedroom for her father, Kesterson could not find what she was looking for at Ethan Allen.
“I found a bed online through a well-known store and Marianne encouraged me to go with that,” she said.
Craig Thomas said that for him communication with customers is crucial. Craig has been part of the family business since his early 20s, and his ultimate joy is to deliver his customers’ furniture.
“Part of the reason I deliver is the interaction with the customers,” he said. “Our designers work well with our customers in finding the things they like, and they build good rapport with them. If there is an issue, we figure out how to make them happy. We strive for that.”
Thomas’ Ethan Allen customers are located beyond Denton County. Craig Thomas has made personal deliveries to places such as Oklahoma, California, Florida and Canada.
Craig Thomas said that, in his years at Ethan Allen, customers rarely return their furniture purchases.
“I attribute that to Anadara and Marianne. They really work with the customer,” he said. “We have a low return rate because of them.”
Bill Thomas said he has seen the furniture industry change throughout the years. He compared it to the fashion industry, which also has certain trends in style. He said Denton has been good to him and his employees.
“I could not have done it without a lot of wonderful people and our customers,” he said.
He also said he learned early on to never judge anyone and treat every customer the way he would like to be treated. That begins the minute they walk through the door.
“When a customer comes in, they are immediately greeted,” Bill Thomas said. “It is very important.”
Karina Ramírez can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Thomas’ Ethan Allen Interiors
200 W. Oak St.