ZLOMKE FURNITURE – Floor Covering – Phone SKyline 4-4671 – St. Paul, Nebraska
George Zlomke had a hard time feeding his family during the depression and tried a number of occupations, which included stints as a deputy sheriff and as the manager of a funeral home, before landing in the furniture business right after the end of the Second World War. Things were still tough; I remember my father saying that Grandpa couldn’t afford a lot of stock at the beginning and came up with the idea of filling his showroom with card tables. Furniture turned out to be a winner for him, and Grandpa’s store is a fixture in my childhood memories of visits to Nebraska. I remember Grandpa as a prosperous small businessman. He was mayor of St. Paul for a long time and, if I remember correctly, on the school board, even though he didn’t have a high school education.
Grandpa’s store consisted of one big showroom with furniture lined up in rows, unpacked, but otherwise not arranged for display in any fashion. I don’t remember that he made any use of the store windows for display either; there wasn’t much foot traffic in a town of fewer than two thousand people, so perhaps that didn’t make any difference.
For him, selling furniture wasn’t about branding, but about personal relationships, and the things he sold seem simple and marvelously straightforward in my memory. Not a lot of style choices, but plenty of merchandise to meet people’s basic needs for tables and chairs, case pieces and beds. That was the fifties; most people seemed to be a lot like you, with the same basic accessories in their lives. The poor and others who lived on society’s margins didn’t attract a lot of attention. My grandparents had been Roosevelt democrats, like a lot of people in their generation, even in Nebraska, so I guess they exemplified the social democratic consensus we had in those days.
Years later, when I found my way into the custom furniture business in California, I decided to use the family business name; Grandpa was gone by then, but I think it pleased Grandma to have the name continue. At first glance what I do is very different, making furniture a few pieces at a time and for more individual tastes. It is a different era, when we are confronted with endless permutations of every product, and the production and marketing of so many things are calibrated to very particular tastes and styles. We value our freedom to choose the furniture that suits us as individuals, and I for my part enjoy making pieces that are responsive to my own experiences and enrich the lives of their users. The personal connection to the buyer remains important for me, as it was for Grandpa.
The yardstick, which now adorns the wall of my workshop, was made by the Newton Manufacturing Company of Newton, Iowa. The company is still in business, an employee owned company whose website offers to put the power of promotional products to work for you to generate brand awareness. You can still get yardsticks, now metric on one side, for about a dollar each in quantity.