By Jordyn Grzelewski
Traveling between their Pittsburgh and Cleveland area stores, Levin Furniture executives drove through the Mahoning Valley often over the years.
The region nestled between Levin’s two primary markets seemed like a logical next step for the furniture and mattress chain, and for years that was the company’s ambition.
Now, Levin is doing just that, adding not one but three stores in the area. A showroom in Boardman opened Aug. 31 and showrooms in Hermitage, Pa., and Niles will open soon.
“We’re so excited to finally be in this market,” Chris Pelcher, Levin Furniture executive vice president and general manager, said at the grand opening of the Boardman location. “We’ve always dreamed about having stores here.”
That store is Levin’s 16th full-line furniture store. The company also has 18 mattress stores.
It all began with a single store in Mount Pleasant, Pa., a small borough about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The flagship store, started by Sam Levin in 1920 and still open to this day, was the only Levin’s store for decades.
In the late 1970s, the second generation of family ownership decided to branch out into Pittsburgh and opened a handful of stores there, Pelcher said. Howard Levin, Sam’s grandson, oversaw the beginning of Levin’s expansion into Cleveland before he died suddenly in the early 1990s.
Howard’s brother Robert came on to run the family business at that point.
“Once he got comfortable with the business, he really set out on expanding,” Pelcher said.
The company began pursuing an opportunity to open stores in the Youngstown area earlier this year. The new locations are all former Goldsteins Furniture stores, which announced in May it would shutter after 112 years in business.
Goldsteins President and CEO Steve Goldstone cited competition from retailers in Cleveland, Erie and Pittsburgh as a challenge that prompted Goldsteins leadership to cease operations and allow the stores to be reopened by Levin.
“Levin is a major retailer, so when they thought of my company I thought, ‘I’ll lose my job, some others in corporate will lose theirs, but the employees can keep a job and that’s what my father would have wanted,’” Goldstone, the fourth-generation family operator of the store, said in announcing the decision.
Levin officials said many Goldsteins associates will stay on at the stores.
At the store in Boardman, the building is mostly unchanged, save for some updates to flooring, lighting and paint, Pelcher said. A Levin store designer spent just under two months working on the space and preparing it for opening day.
“The building was in excellent shape,” Pelcher said. “We ‘Levinized’ the space, but we were given a really nice canvass to work with.”
Levin Furniture is no longer owned by the Levin family. After more than 97 years of family ownership, the company was acquired last year by Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners.
Still, Pelcher sees the Levin family’s mark on the business.
“The Levin family set us on an amazing course,” he said. “We were taught by the Levin family that if you treated customers right ... you could not only survive in retail, but thrive.”
Survival has not always been easy. Pelcher noted the shuttering of many other retailers due to the challenges posed by e-commerce.
Levin, while still focused on its brick-and-mortar operations, also sells online.
“Being open to change, being nimble, being reactive to the consumer” has been crucial to the company’s success, Pelcher said.
As for what sets Levin apart from other furniture retailers, he points to customer service above all else.
“I would say that we are customer-service obsessed,” he said. “We travel the globe looking for the very best product. Great value. Great financing opportunities. But at the end of the day, it’s just great service.”