Furniture and museum destination closing doors

By Sarah Brown

Lebanon Local

Hometown Furniture, a Lebanon landmark furniture store best known  for museum-quality curiosities and exhibits of all kinds,  will soon be closing its doors and saying farewell.

Michael and Shirley White recently announced the decision to retire their family-run business following 32 years of success in Lebanon.

As the two grew into their retirement years, the family began discussing what they would do with the business, Michael White said.

“The place is getting so big, it’s getting hard to handle with just us,” he said.

Nothing had been decided, though, until White made a passing comment about needing to slow down to a friend at Stanton Furniture, who replied, “Be careful what you wish for.”

That conversation must have greased the gears in motion, because the family soon found themselves establishing plans to liquidate their inventory and get ready for the next chapter of their lives.

“It’s happening so fast, our heads are spinning, but we’re so excited,” White said. “I always thought I’d be in here until I died.”

White said he’s always worked at least 70 hours a week, leaving Sundays free for family life, but he plans to  retain his properties and lease them out.

His youngest daughter, Heather Walker, has worked at Hometown Furniture her entire life, but recently had a baby, White’s first grandchild.

“She wants to be a stay-at-home mom,” White said. “My wife wants to be a stay-at-home grandma, and I want to be a stay-at-home grandpa.”

Hometown Furniture has been known as more than just a furniture store, though. The 46,000-square-foot building also houses hundreds of museum-quality artifacts, from taxidermy to airplanes and more.

“It’s become a destination place,” White said. “We’ve got the greatest people that come from all over the country. A lot of them come just to look at the antique cars and airplanes, but we’ve sold a lot of furniture because of that.”

It all started with a little yellow 1956 Nash Metropolitan car that White accepted as a trade, he said.

“We used it as a little table to put accessories on, and it fascinated the guys so much,” White said.

When they expanded the building, they kept adding artifacts because people enjoyed it so much, he said.

“You can’t hardly get guys to go furniture shopping, and now we have guys that bring their wives and buddies in,” he said.

Hometown Furniture’s many artifacts include: a covered wagon from the Oregon Trail; the front porch of the Oregon Insane Asylum, where the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was filmed; antique cars, airplanes and boats; an old wooden ferris wheel seat;  a double decker bus;  and hundreds of household items from yesteryears.

Pilots have flown into Lebanon just to look at the old planes, families have used the store for prom and Christmas photos, and residents bring their out-of-town visitors there to see the sights, White said.

“There’s a lot of history in here, and I feel bad for the people that love to come in and look at it because this is like a museum,” he said. “People just have a good time. This is their get-away; they just wander around.”

The family dog, a yellow lab named Colt, is also so popular to some customers that they won’t even go into the store if he’s not there, said Shirley White.

Michael White has been in the buying-and-selling business his entire life.

He worked at auctions in Salem starting at 16 years old, then opened his first second-hand store in Stayton and Brooks.

In 1986, White purchased Gibbs Furniture on the corner of Grant and Second streets and named his new business Hometown Furniture. They remained there about seven years before buying their current location, which at the time was Cornet Variety Store.

About 10 years later, White built onto the property for his expanding business.

“This building is the length of two football fields,” he said of the  current size.

Just two years ago, he purchased the car dealership property next door and occupied the building as a clearance and mattress center.

“It really took off, but it’s still hard having enough employees and delivery people; we’re so backed up on things,” White said.

Edd, a fifth-generation local and employee who will only go by that name, has been at Hometown Furniture about four years. He described his employers as kind, family-oriented people who are concerned about their employees.

“The family’s just wonderful,” he said. “I’ve worked for a lot of wonderful people, too, but I’ve never worked for a store owner who’s been right in there and doing everything, just constantly.”

He’s also been impressed with White’s business sense to keep sales pressure to a minimum while offering a touristy location where people can visit with employees and friends. Edd said Hometown’s free delivery was also something that’s unheard of these days.

“It’s just sort of old-school.”

His favorite artifact in the store is the 1928 Ford farm-to-market truck.

“It reminds me of growing up in the country when the bakery truck would come by and deliver, and always had a free donut,” he said.

Edd doesn’t know what his next move will be once Hometown closes, but hopes a new business will lease the property and consider hiring the employees who’ve worked there.

As for White, he said they’re going to really miss the people and the customers he’s served for more than 30 years.

“It’s been great. We’re the most blessed people on earth and I don’t know why, but we’re thankful,” White said.

“Lebanon has been wonderful,” Shirley White added. “They’ve embraced us from Day One, and it’s been amazing.”

Hometown Furniture will begin its sales event starting Memorial Day weekend. Hours of operation are from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. They are closed Wednesdays.

The store’s artifacts will not be for sale.

MEMBERS of the White Family, from left, Michael and Shirley, and their daughter Heather Walker, with their dog, Colt, stand in their Hometown Furniture showroom.