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New Owner of Furniture Chain Plans Slow Growth

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fred Comrie doesn’t intend to revolutionize the way Arnold’s Interiors, a San Diego-based furniture store chain, does business.

Rather, Comrie, who last week paid an undisclosed amount for the San Diego-based company, intends to slowly expand the chain, though only in San Diego County.

The decidedly slow-growth strategy is driven by a desire to shield Arnold’s, which Comrie described as profitable, from economic forces that have pushed several of Southern California’s largest furniture retailers into bankruptcy court.

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On Nov. 15, Irvine-based RB Furniture, Southern California’s largest local chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On Nov. 4, Los Angeles-based Barker Bros., the region’s oldest furniture chain, filed for bankruptcy protection. Last year, San Diego-based Furnishings 2000 entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

“There’s only a handful of companies out there that have been making money for years,” Comrie, 38, said during an interview. “And this is one of them.” Comrie declined to discuss profit figures for Arnold’s, which reported $40 million in 1990 revenue.

Comrie tied Arnold’s profitability to the fact that “it has no bank debt . . . that’s very important to me, and that’s the way it’s going to stay,” Comrie said.

Comrie, whose family owns the Brick, a Canadian furniture chain with $400 million in revenue, has spent 18 years in the furniture retailing business. He moved to San Diego seven years ago but recently sold his interest in the Brick to other family members.

During the late 1980s, the Comrie family tried, but failed, to revive Furnishings 2000. The Comries eventually sold their interest in the publicly traded company to a new management team that last year placed the ailing company into bankruptcy proceedings.

“It’s pretty important to note that we made sure all of our suppliers were taken care of” before the sale, Comrie said. “That’s one reason we put money into the company . . . to make sure suppliers were taken care of.”

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Arnold’s was founded in 1966 by Arnold B. Belinsky, 60, and his wife, Esther. The chain is the nation’s 70th-largest furniture retailer, according to Furniture/Today, a North Carolina-based trade publication.

Arnold’s has eight locations in San Diego County, including two Arnold’s for Kids and Teens, three Arnold’s Interiors, two Thomasville Galleries and Arnold’s Clearance Center. About 250 employees work at the stores, a corporate headquarters office and a distribution center.

Comrie said that Arnold’s will soon add home furnishing centers in East San Diego County and the South Bay. The company also intends to move a Thomasville Showcase in San Diego to a free-standing, 18,000-square-foot building.

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