92-year-old business weathers changes in North Memphis

Hollywood Furniture and Hardware Co. has been on the same corner and has been owned by the same family since 1924.
At the corner of Hollywood and Chelsea avenues sits a low-key Memphis institution, Hollywood Furniture and Hardware Co. It is both a plucky independent business and a stalwart in a neighborhood that has seen many changes.  

Hollywood Furniture and Hardware was established in 1924 by Roy and Irene Sanford. The other partners left the business during the Great Depression, but the Sanfords stayed and passed on their business to the next generation.

At the time the business opened, the area at Hollywood and Chelsea was part of the county. The intersection was industry-focused and had a packing house and railroad yard, so a hardware store was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. One of the store’s original logos was “The House of Square Dealings.”

Berl Garey, the store’s current CEO, married the Sanford’s daughter Marilyn. After working for IBM and a tour in the U.S. Air Force, Berl returned to Memphis with Marilyn and bought the company from his in-laws in 1956. By then the intersection had acquired the the original Hollywood Feed and the Hollywood Movie Theater which opened in 1940.

“The area was self-sufficient,” said Berl. The Hyde Park neighborhood boasted two grocery stores, two drug stores and a National Bank of Commerce.

Hollywood Furniture and Hardware’s surrounding area would be now unrecognizable to early patrons. What began as a predominately white neighborhood changed and over time became mostly African-American. The store was spared any damage during the riots that engulfed the city in 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but the rest of the neighborhood couldn’t say the same.

The Hollywood Movie Theater was demolished in 2005. The vacant Hollywood Elementary School building, around the corner from Hollywood Furniture and Hardware, was later revamped into a Promise Academy charter school. The building that housed National Bank of Commerce is now a men’s fashion store.

Many other businesses have left the area but not Hollywood Furniture and Hardware. “We could have moved, but we discovered that the cost of renting or a mortgage payment out east would cause us to have to raise all of our prices,” said Berl.
The Dogwood Gateway sculpture marks a new spring for a declining neighborhood.In 2012, the southwest corner of Hollywood and Chelsea received a new addition: A sculpture called “Dogwood Gateway”, created by the Metal Museum.  The sculpture “symbolizes resurrection and regeneration at the southwest corner of Hollywood Street and Chelsea Avenue,” according to an article published by the Calvert Avenue Street News at the time of the sculpture’s installation.

True to its history, the store continues to sell hardware and furniture side-by-side.

The hardware side gets a lot of traffic when the weather changes in the winter and spring. During the infamous ice storm of 1994, Bart recalls that, “We had one customer come in to buy a chainsaw, and they ended up buying several thousand dollars’ worth of furniture.”

On the furniture side, Hollywood Furniture and Hardware specializes in French and Victorian furniture. For this, they have customers in New Orleans, Detroit, and Chicago. The company, however, does not ship furniture. They deliver where their trucks and go and come back within a day, which generally means Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri.

The secret of their success is excellent customer service. “We spend the time to provide not just good customer service at the point of sale, but on the delivery too,” said Bart. A tucked-away treasure, Hollywood Furniture and Hardware relies on referrals and word of mouth.

As a family, the Gareys are very dedicated to the University of Memphis. “Our family bleeds blue and gray,” said Berl. Both Berl, Marilyn, and all four of their children, Vicky, Michael, Leslie, the company’s vice president, and Bart, the company’s president, graduated from the University of Memphis.

Berl served as president of the national alumni association and served on the board of trustees.  Through the Memphis Home Furnishing Association, the family was able to endow a scholarship at the University of Memphis.

“I’m still helping out,” said Berl. “When you have a family business you can’t retire.”

Bart Garey has been working in the family business for 40 years. “My mom used to drop us off when we were kids when she had errands to run,” said Bart. In high school he worked at the store part time.

The landscape at Hollywood and Chelsea has changed since 1924 as has the landscape of Memphis. But Hollywood Furniture and Hardware is still present, steady as the Mississippi River. “People tell us we’re the best kept secret in Memphis,” said Berl. 
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Read more articles by Tamara Williamson.

Tamara is a native Memphian and has a B.A. and M.A. from UT Knoxville. She has previously written guest posts for I Love Memphis blog.