Rising Tide

Nicole Crews, Gary Evans, September 13, 2011

Nicole C. Crews

A FEW WEEKS AGO CASUAL LIVING PUBLISHER NORMAN Hamilton and I loaded up the proverbial wagon and took off on an outdoor odyssey of epic proportions. With Alabama - and its bevy of casual furniture manufacturers and retailers - in our sights, we hit the ground running.
     Norman's first stop on the agenda was Crimson Casual in Haleyville where local trucking entrepreneur Jon Bennett saw an opportunity to enter the industry when Winston Furniture moved its manufacturing south of the border and left the plant behind. Bennett already knew how many trucks he moved in and out of the then-Winston plant, and despite tough economic times, he jumped right in. In Tuscaloosa, Phifer who was in one of the hardest-hit areas of the April 2011 tornado tirade, never missed a production day.
     Down the road a ways in Irondale, we visited with Tim Leroy of Peak Season, who founded his boutique outdoor manufacturing business after an 18-year tenure with Meadowcraft Furniture came to a close when the latter was facing financial woes.
     In Birmingham, we met with the young, energetic and enthusiastic team behind Plantation Patterns Furniture Company (exclusive licensees of Tommy Bahama Outdoor Furniture) - some of whom had been industry refugees as a result of the recessionary fallout.
     In Pelham, we attended Summer Classics' Garden Party where company President Bew White extolled his "The
Meadowcraft FurnitureMeadowcraft Furniture that dates back almost half a century still graces Executive Editor Nicole Crews’ childhood home where many a cotillion, prom and Easter photograph were staged.
Glass is Half Full" message to a crowd of 165-plus retailers, vendors and guests.
     The next morning at a local Cracker Barrel, we met with Kim Golson - also formerly of Meadowcraft - to talk about her quasi-new role at NorthCape and the company's evolution.
     Even our waitress, Arlene - a total-loss victim of the Northern Alabama tornado blast - spoke of adaptation and hope for the future. With a wink, she told Norman, "You better not give me your credit card, honey. I'll go out and buy all new furniture."
     Our final destination was Wadley, a 1.4-sq.-mi. town pushing up against the Georgia border and home to Meadowcraft Furniture. I knew the company because my designing mother was hired out of New York in the 1960s to decorate its Merchandise Mart showroom in Chicago. In an effort to bring the garden indoors, she commissioned and installed an enormous iron gate for the display. The final product was so unorthodox and beautiful that Architectural Digest featured it on its cover.
     When Meadowcraft closed its doors a few years ago, the town of Wadley nearly did the same. That is until real estate professional Gene Crouch and Southern Patio's Ken Harbaugh started talking about it at Worship on the Water at Lake Wedowee. Within a few months, they had done their research, looked into incentives, and when the company was set to auction, Harbaugh stepped in to purchase the assets. Today, Meadowcraft , like a phoenix rising from the ashes, is back in business. It's a lean operation, but like so many of its ‘Bama brethren, it's fed on hard work, optimism and faith in the American spirit.

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