From sofas and dinettes to mattresses, wall art and silk plants — anything for a condo at reasonable prices — Benfield’s Furniture had it all.
In operation since 1964 and considered one of Naples’ oldest businesses, the Davis Boulevard store cited financial reasons when it closed its doors March 31.
“We got through the season, but knew that as summer approached, we would have a rough time making it through,” President and CEO Carolyn Teach said.
The business was originally owned by Clyde Benfield and Allan Herman, now deceased, before their wives — sisters Hilda and Francis, respectively — assumed ownership. Teach, Herman’s daughter, took the reins as president and CEO and built the store into a successful business that served customers from Fort Myers to Marco Island.
Throughout Benfield’s 47-year history, its customers grew close to the family members who staffed the store. Teach said many of their most recent customers are the children and grandchildren of their first customers.
She said as Naples evolved from a sleepy fishing village into the chic city of today, Benfield’s worked hard to maintain furniture styles and sizes that fit the average home and budget, an effort that earned the business a distinction as the first discount store in Naples.
She said that while Benfield’s was a little different, it was “never accused of being stodgy.”
“Even our sales reps from the manufacturers would comment on how Benfield’s was different, though we could never get them to explain how we were different,” Teach said.
“We loved our business and regret having to close,” she continued. “We will miss it, as it was like a home to us.”
When the real estate market boomed, the furniture business flourished, Teach explained. In the last four years, however, sales steadily declined as real estate faltered and slowed to a near stop.
She said once they made the decision to fold the store in February, employees stopped taking customer deposits. Vendors were paid in full, as were all business taxes, Teach said. Benfield’s had no debt, and the store, three warehouses and property were mortgage-free.
“We closed with our heads high,” Teach said. “During our final sale in the last month of business, we sold about 95 percent of our remaining merchandise.”
Teach’s cousin and store manager for 16 years, Shelly Benfield, also cited the weak economy as reason for the decline in business. With gas prices skyrocketing and financial accounts drained, customers didn’t want to spend money on new furniture sets, she said.
“They’ll replace their old beds, the soiled old recliners and the tired sofa, but the new stuff better match or blend in with the old décor,” Benfield noted.
During its heyday, Benfield’s pitched to customers who wanted mid- to small-sized home and condo furnishings versus oversized, and overpriced, items.
New, casual and contemporary furniture shared floor space in the 17,000 square foot showroom with tropical and Old Florida style pieces from brands like Carlton, Rebwood and Swindal International.
“While the furniture trend dictated oversized, dark, old-estate-looking styles, we tried very hard to stay ‘beachy’ with light-colored, small-sized pieces that were affordable,” Benfield said.
Tasked with arranging the floor layout, Benfield recalled the work she endured after tropical storm Jerry struck the area in 1995 and put Davis Boulevard under water. She moved furniture, pulled up water-logged carpeting and repainted, she remembered.
Her son learned to walk in the store, she noted, and family pets like Charlie the African gray parrot were fixtures among the furniture.
“Our customers are some of the best in Naples,” Benfield said. “They were sad to see us go, but they came in to share their memories with us and tell us tales of when they bought furniture long ago. If our customers weren’t great people, we would have never lasted so many years.”