Chair company still sitting pretty

FALCONER – In the 20th century, Jamestown was internationally known as the king of the furniture industry.

For years, many residents in the south county city made their living working in furniture factories. Some of those names included Chadakoin Furniture Co., Jamestown Royal, Ethan Allen and Crawford Furniture. So big was the furniture industry that semi-annual Furniture Mart exhibitions were held in the city that drew buyers from across the nation to our region until 1982.

Many of those industries, however, no longer exist. Jamestown, like so many Western New York communities, is undergoing a continuing identity crisis. What will it be in the future? What is its brand today?

One business, however, with a history of more than 200 years has managed to change with the times. Located at 121 S. Work St. in the village, Fancher Chair Co. is an amazing model. It is locally owned. It has more than 135 employees. And, it has a worldwide presence.

During a recent Monday morning visit to the factory, which has gone through numerous renovations at its longtime location, there was a buzz of activity.

Wood shavings littered the first floor. Sounds of mechanical saws ring through certain work areas. Pieces of wood, once crafted by individual workers, are done with the assistance of computers.

Gary Henry Sr., Fancher Chair treasurer, focused the tour of the company on its present operations. Henry estimated that nearly 8,000 chairs are made monthly by the business to be distributed globally. He said the great recession of 2008 and 2009 led a number of international furniture manufacturers to suspend operations due to decreased demand.

“When the economy went down, that boosted us,” Henry said, noting manufacturers in China were focused more on volume. Fancher Chair’s reputation is based on quality and its attention to detail.

“Everything we do here is made for a special customer to either their design or we will design it for them,” he said.

Some of the companies Fancher supplies with its chairs include Knoll, Stickley, Design Within Reach and it even does a model for Disney.

One of the chairs being worked on in the second floor that day was for Burnhardt Furniture. In celebration of its 125th year, Bernhardt designed a rocker and chair and called on Fancher to manufacture the pieces.

The chair was to be showcased this month at a furniture exhibition in High Point, N.C. “We made a dozen chairs and maybe six of the rockers,” Henry said. “That’s just the prototype. After the market, they will give us the orders depending how the market went for 100 or 200 or whatever they want us to build for the first month.”

Brocton resident Don Kelsey worked at Fancher Chair for years, making the trip from his Stockton home to Falconer. Each day, he arrived at the plant around 4 in the morning so the first shift could begin the process of staining chairs in the finish room.

Kelsey, who set up the visit, retired from the company in 2002 after being hired by Henry in 1975. During our visit, many current employees greeted him with hugs and well wishes.

It was a welcoming atmosphere, almost a feeling that the company was family. That comes down to local ownership.

Gary Henry Jr. is the chief executive officer of the operation. I was able to say hello to him, but he was busy throughout the day on the floors assisting his employees with a hands-on approach.

It is a true business success story. Chautauqua County can use more of these.

New map on way

Our third cartoon map, which showcases Brocton, Westfield and Ripley, will be available starting next week. Illustrated by Sarah Neumeister in creative services, look for locations to pick up the 19- by 26-inch map in future editions of the OBSERVER.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.