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The history of hickory furniture mart

Our History

Timeline

1947

The Mull family opens Hickory Drive-In Grill, which includes a hot dog stand for patrons on the east side of the site of what is now known as Hickory Furniture Mart.

1952

The hot dog stand becomes so popular with movie goers that this sparks the idea of converting it into a full scale restaurant and Mull’s Restaurant opens.

1957

Due to its prime location and the need for overnight accommodations in the area, the Mull family decides to add a motel on-site. Mull’s Restaurant now becomes Mull’s Motel & Restaurant.

1958

Mull’s Restaurant becomes a destination for furniture wholesale dealers and buyers traveling through Hickory on business. Since many of the furniture buyers stay at the motel, local furniture manufacturers establish this as a central meeting point to showcase their current product lines to potential buyers. They use the restaurant’s basement to display more product, leading to the industry’s first wholesale exhibition, which takes place in the basement of Mull’s Restaurant.

1960

Leroy Lail encourages a group of furniture manufacturers to meet twice a year to display their products to furniture buyers inside the building and Hickory Furniture Mart originates from the creative vision of Leroy Lail and Lynn (Mull) Lail.

1962-1980

The Markets at Hickory Furniture Mart continue to gain popularity and grow in attendance. Multiple expansions take place to display more product by more manufacturers.

1985

The Lail family decides to convert their bi-annual wholesale furniture exhibition space into a year-round retail furniture destination. Visitors from around the world now have access to the most diverse furniture selections under one roof and receive exclusive industry discounts comparable to wholesale pricing that have never been offered to the public before.

1992

The Mull family decides to close Mull’s Motel & Restaurant and the Hickory Drive-In Grill and utilize this land to expand Hickory Furniture Mart even more. The Lail family completes another major expansion on the southeast side of the building and Mull’s Motel becomes a Holiday Inn Express.

1996-1998

Hickory Furniture Mart completes two major expansions on the south side of the building to add more showroom space.

2009

The North entrance is transformed through a lobby renovation project.

2014

The Lail family redevelops the original Mull’s Motel site into a new mixed-use retail development known as Fairbrook Ridge. The land continues to expand with future growth from a space that started out and evolved from a simple hot dog stand inside of a drive-in movie theater.

A Proud Heritage

Hickory, North Carolina can trace its furniture history back to the earliest part of the 20th century and a young merchant named George W. Hall. Standing in front of his general mercantile business on Hickory’s main street, Hall would watch the long freight trains rumbling through town, bearing load after load of southern lumber headed for furniture factories up north.

North Carolina had only a few furniture factories at that time. In 1890 the state had only six furniture plants employing fewer than 200 employees. In 1901, Hall and a group of other Hickory businessmen and bankers decided that some of the region’s lumber should be used to build furniture in Hickory.

When these entrepreneurs organized the town’s first furniture factory, Hickory Furniture Company, Hall was only 28 years old. Despite his youth, Hall successfully managed that first plant and within the year he helped to start the town’s second furniture manufacturing business, Martin Furniture Co.

The natural trade routes along the rivers in the region provided an artery by which both designers and craftsmen flowed into the Catawba Valley region in the early years of the 20th century. With the craftsmen came the knowledge and skills to train the abundant and willing labor force available in North Carolina’s foothills. There was no unionization in the industry, and workers were plentiful and eager to work.

By the 1920s and 1930s, more furniture plants were forming as the industry spread throughout Hickory and the surrounding areas. But the Depression years were especially hard on the industry because furniture was still considered a luxury and many people could barely afford food, much less furniture. Although some companies went under, others managed to stay afloat, due to smart mergers, frugal policies and loyal employees

With the end of World War II, the furniture industry experienced its biggest boom as returning military veterans looked for jobs that would enable them to build homes and buy new furniture for their families. Hickory area companies grew and split off, creating even more new furniture companies. As generation followed generation in the business of crafting furniture, Hickory and the Catawba Valley became the furniture manufacturing capital of the nation.

A Second Industry Is Born

In 1960, a second industry arose to support the burgeoning furniture industry when a handful of furniture manufacturers gathered for the first time to display their products to retail dealers. This wholesale exhibition was held on the site of what is now known as Hickory Furniture Mart. And so the Mart became the hub of the wholesale furniture exhibition business and would flourish for decades in western North Carolina. In 1985, Hickory Furniture Mart decided to open its doors - previously open only to wholesale members of the trade - to the public for the very first time. Within a short decade, the Mart was the nation’s leading manufacturer-related furniture center and one of North Carolina’s top visitor attractions. Hickory Furniture Mart continues to transition as the industry evolves and is proud to celebrate its longevity with its customers, vendors and countless friends in the furniture industry.

Today, Hickory Furniture Mart’s expansive complex is comprised of four-levels housing 100 factory outlets, custom order stores, and manufacturers’ galleries, representing nearly 1,000 of the most recognizable brand names in the furniture industry. The Mart also offers an onsite hotel as well as a gourmet café and a coffeehouse with Wi-Fi internet access. The premier manufacturers represented throughout the Mart include most major quality domestic and international manufacturers, accessories, fabrics, lighting, rugs, wall coverings and additional home furnishings.

People from every state and international visitors from several countries visit Hickory Furniture Mart each year. Furnishings purchased at the Mart may be found in celebrity homes, apartments, condominiums, mansions and castles all around the world.

The Mart has been highlighted in the New York Times, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Woman’s Day and many other national publications. The Mart has also been showcased on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and the Discovery Channel’s “Interior Motives with Christopher Lowell.

For information about Hickory Furniture Mart, call 1-800-462-MART (6278) or contact us.