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 &amp; 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.
In addition to Bare Woods and Santa Rosa Bedding &amp; Furniture, stores that have closed or are planning to close include Furniture 101, Black Sea Gallery and Red Tag Furniture in Santa Rosa, Furniture Solutions in Rohnert Park and Couches, Etc. in Petaluma.
Many that haven't closed are struggling desperately.
"Business is very, very slow right now. I don't know what's going on," said Ben Nejad, owner of Piner Furniture.
Nejad stood in the middle of the northwest Santa Rosa store he has owned for 10 years, and over the course of an hour one recent afternoon not a single customer entered his shop.
Banners all around the colorfully painted store attest to Nejad's efforts to drum up business any way he can: Remodeling Sale, No Tax Sale, Storewide Clearance Sale, Wells Fargo Financing Available.
He has cut costs to the bone, scaling back the hours of his employees and eliminating a warehouse that was costing him $3,500 per month. Instead, he converted several thousand square feet that once held children's furniture into storage space.
As much as he hated reducing the size of his showroom, Nejad didn't have any choice.
He needs at least $80,000 a month in revenue to break even, but he barely has made that in the past four months, he said. He has maxed out his business and personal credit cards to pay the bills, and has gone $180,000 into debt trying to keep the business afloat, he said.
"We have to survive until January," Nejad said. "The only other option I have is to get rid of the inventory and go to the landlord and say 'goodbye.' "