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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Michigan's Art Van plans Toledo area store

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The former Super Cinema theaters in Springfield Township. The former Super Cinema theaters in Springfield Township.
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After 53 years as Michigan's top furniture retailing chain, Art Van Furniture Inc. has decided to embark on expansion outside the Wolverine state by opening a store next year in the Toledo area.

Art Van, which is based in Warren and operates 34 stores throughout Michigan, recently signed a purchase agreement with National Amusements Inc. to acquire the theater chain's 14-acre Super Cinemas site at 1301 E. Mall Rd. in the Spring Meadows Shopping Center in Springfield Township. The 10-screen theater complex has been closed since 2008.

"We are doing our due diligence and will be going to the city for approval if everything works out," Art Van spokesman Diane Charles said Monday. The furniture dealer would like to put a 90,000-square-foot store on the site. The tentative opening schedule is spring of 2013.

Ms. Charles said the store would have between 100 and 120 employees.

The company's chief executive officer, Kim Yost, told a Detroit business magazine in March that Art Van was implementing a strategy to take it outside the state of Michigan. The company, he said, had plotted a 250-mile radius around its Warren warehouse where it could make furniture deliveries without difficulty, and it had been exploring sites in Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Chicago.

Art Van makes regular deliveries to customers in the Toledo area who order online or have visited one of the Michigan stories, the closest of which is in Ann Arbor.

Ms. Charles said the company has long had a goal to expand beyond Michigan and for the last few years has been exploring such opportunities. "We believe [Toledo] is a great town and a city on the move," she said when asked why the Springfield Township site was chosen.

"It's just 75 miles from our corporate office, and really, Toledo is a lot closer to us than some of the company's other stores."

National Amusements would not comment on the transaction other than to say that the property was still on the market. Last year the theater chain, which dominated the area cinema market before selling its local operations to Rave Cinemas in 2009, listed the Spring Meadows site for $2.7 million through the Toledo office of Signature Associates, Inc.

If it succeeds in opening a store in the Toledo area, Art Van would compete for market share almost immediately against several other well-known chains with a Toledo presence, including Arhaus Furniture, Value City Furniture, and La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries, said veteran furniture industry analyst Jerry Epperson, of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, of Richmond, Va. It also would compete with Appliance Center in Maumee, which sells furniture and other home products.

Even though Art Van has been confined to the state of Michigan for more than 50 years, "there aren't many in their league," Mr. Epperson said. The company had sales of $470 million in 2011.

"No furniture dealer dominates a state like they dominate Michigan," Mr. Epperson said. The analyst said that in the furniture industry Art Van is known as one of the best-run retail operations. "They are highly creative and excellent both in their promotions and their values. They provide high value to the consumer, lots of service, and fast deliveries," he added.

Mr. Epperson said the company's Warren furniture warehouse is well known within the industry as one of the most modern operations anywhere. "Furniture-industry people go from all over the country to look at Art Van's warehouse because they're on the cutting edge of how to do things," he said.

It had been known for some time, Mr. Epperson said, that the Michigan furniture retailer was eager to expand outside its state borders. "They've considered it off and on and the rumor was they were considering the Chicago market and had advertised for a store manager there," he said.

Toledo makes perfect sense for a first out-of-state store, Mr. Epperson added, because the company probably was already doing healthy sales in the area.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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