HOUSTON — Furniture stores in many parts of Texas are feeling the impact of an unusually powerful winter storm of freezing temperatures and significant snow and ice accumulations in the state. And those retailers are reaching out to a community now dealing with widespread power losses and water supply issues.
Statewide, retailers have had to close their doors because of lack of power and because it is no longer safe for their employees to travel to work. Ikea has been keeping customers updated on social media, closing and delaying the opening of up to five stores at a time over the course of about a week because of the bad weather conditions.
In Houston, Gallery Furniture closed its store operation after losing power early in the week of Feb. 15, but then opened up two of its three showrooms to offer food, water, shelter and heat to hundreds in the community, some of whom had been without power for days.
Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who similarly opened his store to those in need during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, told a Washington Post reporter that it his “obligation” to open his doors to let people come in after having benefited from their support as a retailer for years.
“If you are in need of a warm place to stay and a meal, please stop by the 6006 N. Freeway showroom,” McIngvale tweeted on Feb. 16 as part of a string of social media announcements about the shelter. “We are open for business if you need furniture or mattresses, but most importantly we want everyone to stay safe and warm.”
Since that announcement, the Washington Post reported that about 350 people a night have taken him up on the offer, and up to 800 a day have come in to warm up and get coffee and hot meal in the stores’ cafeterias.
McIngvale and his team have been accommodating those folks by using large generators and, because freezing temperatures have caused pipes to freeze in the store, portable toilets and a special flush system in restrooms.
To feed the masses, McIngvale has been paying food vendors to bring in food to the stores and sending out meals to first responders in the community. To get folks settled into the store for overnight stays, Gallery Furniture and McIngvale himself has been passing out blankets and keeping televisions turned on to pass the time.
Safety a priority
Also in Houston, all but one of Exclusive Furniture’s seven locations lost power and water for most of the week, according to Sam Zavary, president and founder. He said employee safety was his biggest priority, so he closed his stores on Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. and stayed closed for the entirety of the storm, partially reopening on Feb. 18 in some stores as power returned.
“We closed our doors, and we thought this would be over on Monday and Tuesday (and) we would be back to normal,” Zavary explained. “So we just stayed home. We didn’t want to put our employees at risk, and we didn’t have any power or generators to help people with.”
At this time, power has been restored at all Exclusive Furniture locations and most of Texas as a whole, although water is not back on in each of Exclusive’s store, and one store is dealing with damage from a burst frozen water pipe. About 70% of Zavary’s employees are back to work as of Feb. 19, too.
“We opened up to give people a sense of normalcy and serve anyone who might be in need, but we knew we weren’t going to sell a lot of furniture,” noted Zavary about the continued recovery. “We really just wanted to give our employees the chance to get back to work and not miss another paycheck if they could get out.”
He added, “We have gone through a lot as a state and a community, but we always get through it. We’re focused on staying together and getting back to work now.”