As fixtures fall to new tastes and cheap imports, others look to fill high-end niche

  • Tony Bernardi(cq) applies finish to a maple chest of drawers at Santa Rosa Bare Woods,where he's worked 18 years. When the Piner Road business closes, Bernardi will start his own furniture finishing business, jTB Furniture Finishing, in Windsor. (Press Democrat/ Mark Aronoff)

Bill Hewitt's furniture isn't finished, but his business is.

The owner of Bare Woods is closing his Santa Rosa furniture store after 31 years, citing the sluggish housing market, cheap competition from Asia and changing tastes.

"We haven't been profitable in three years," said Hewitt recently from his quiet, cavernous warehouse and showroom on Piner Road. "I want to go out with my head held high."

Less than a mile away, Nita Wright and two partners have recently opened Home Inspirations Interior Design Center in the space vacated by another longtime furniture retailer, Santa Rosa Bedding & Furniture.

Wright is betting that even as some furniture retailers suffer through a painful slump in sales, her new company's mix of fine furniture and interior design services will thrive while serving the needs of well-heeled clientele.

"I think the market for high-end furniture is doing well," Wright said. "It's a small piece of the pie, but it's still a piece that needs attention."

Sonoma County's furniture industry is in turmoil, with several major retailers forced out of business even as new entrants arrive to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The housing downturn and subprime mortgage meltdown are delivering a one-two punch to many furniture retailers already reeling from competition from cheaper imports that are improving in quality.

Fewer home sales mean fewer people are looking to decorate new spaces. Many of those who are staying put are facing a credit crunch as either their mortgage payments increase or sliding home values make it more difficult for them to tap evaporating equity.

The slump that last year sank R.S. Basso in Sebastopol, and Colburn's Wood Furniture and Greenwood Home Furnishings in Santa Rosa has deepened, as home sales have dropped to their lowest level since 1991.

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