Why Phelan’s Interiors in Cedar Rapids is turning away from retail, after 84 years

Phelan owner Paul Phelan Jr. smiles while chatting with Nancy A. Miller of Cedar Rapids at Phelan’s Interiors in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. The two have known each other for a long time and Miller said she wanted to support her friend as he closed his retail furniture store. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The decision to pull Cedar Rapids-based Phelan’s Interiors out of the retail business took nearly a decade, said Paul Phelan Jr., the company’s CEO and president. And it did not come lightly.

Phelan’s, an 84-year-old downtown establishment, announced it would close the retail furniture division last month.

Phelan said the company will focus entirely on working with corporate design clients, a fast-growing niche for the company.

Corporate design work became part of Phelan’s business model in 1985. Since then, Phelan said the sector has seen incredible growth, most recently working with a number of healthcare and healthcare organizations. aged care facilities.

“It’s a very positive change from our perspective,” he said. “We just see more consistency with the corporate sector.

“Part of that is because if you renovate your home and shop with us, we probably won’t see you again for the next 10 years. It’s not a big part of the business.

Phelan noted that supply chain challenges have exacerbated the problem.

“We’ve gone from a typical six- to eight-week delivery window for products to wait 52 weeks, a full year, from order to delivery,” Phelan said. “On the business side, we just don’t have that challenge.

“Additionally, business environments are constantly changing,” Phelan added. “There is always something going on with our corporate clients and we love building those relationships. Today, we find that culture plays a very important role in running your business.

“When we work with clients, we ask them to tell us what’s important to them in running their business, because we want to make sure their space looks the same as they do, showcasing their culture. Especially when people return to work, companies want to make sure it’s a positive environment.

Phelan’s new tagline, he said, “is ‘Love where you work’ because we want to help businesses take care of their spaces and it’s fun to see people have renewed enthusiasm for that.”

The family business has been around long enough to serve generations of residential customers as well, a fact that makes this decision poignant, Phelan admitted.

Over the years, Phelan said he often called residential customers on weekends to make sure their deliveries were coming in as scheduled during the week and that they were happy with their purchase.

“They share so many memories,” he said. “I always say I wouldn’t operate a business in any other town but Cedar Rapids. This community has been great for us, so it’s bittersweet.

“I imagine over the next three months we’re going to take many trips down memory lane, as we’ve been here for over 80 years.”

Deb Tappan of Oxford shows Phelan saleswoman Sharon Jurgens of Cedar Rapids what color she would prefer for the sofa she is considering buying at Phelan’s Interior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. ( Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

A business starting point

It won’t be the first time in all its years of business that Phelan’s Interiors has had to realign itself. Paul Phelan said he remembered conversations on his very first day on the job about a new paint business opening in town that would bring worrying competition to Phelan’s.

“Payless Cashway was opening on the west side of town, and they were selling the same paint as us for less money per gallon. So at the time, we saw a real need to look elsewhere, and we started working with residential customers,” he recalls.

“The funny thing is that Payless Cashway is no longer in business and we’re still here.”

Phelan said the company’s corporate design services grew organically from residential clients and family friends asking their team to work in their offices after being impressed with the work that they had performed at home.

“We saw a lot more opportunities pop up after that and that was our business start point and it was very effective for us,” he said.

Phelan’s first opened, then called Cedar Rapids Paint, in 1938 to sell paint and supplies to retail customers and woodworking yards.

In 1957, the store was renamed Cedar Rapids Paint and Design Studio as furniture and design departments were added to the mix. In the early 1960s, Paul Phelan Sr. purchased Cedar Rapids Paint from his father-in-law and added wall coverings and decor to the store’s offerings.

The business was officially renamed Phelan’s Interiors in 1982 when it moved to its current location at the corner of Third Avenue and Seventh Street SE in downtown Cedar Rapids.

The store was closed for several days to allow staff to prepare for a clearance sale. But the showroom reopened last week with prices lowered to help sell the nearly $1 million worth of inventory from the retail floor and warehouse.

Shoppers can find brands such as Spring Air, Flex Steel, Lexington, Norwalk and Bradington Young, Phelan said, for living room, dining room and bedroom furniture as well as accessories and mattresses. Special orders will also be taken and delivered as soon as they arrive.

Phelan is considering the sale in early summer.

With the closure of the residential commercial portion of the business, Phelan’s corporate headquarters will remain at its current location but will be consolidated on part of the first floor. The rest of the space could be rented out in the near future.

While the change is significant, Phelan and his team are thrilled.

“It became a positive pivot for us,” Phelan said, noting that feedback from client companies validated the decision.

“And, of course, I just want to thank everyone who has come through our doors over the years and given us the opportunity to serve them, to furnish their homes. We loved every second of it.

Closing Sale signs are displayed around the interior of Phelan as customers shop the Closing Sale inside Phelan in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. After being a long business date in the Cedar Rapids area, the store will exit the retail business. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Versa Lauritsen of Cedar Rapids sits in a chair to see if she likes it while shopping with her husband during the Phelan’s Interior Closing Sale at Phelan’s Interior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. ( Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Versa Lauritsen of Cedar Rapids smiles at her husband Bob Lauristen as he jokes about the number of buttons to press on his electric chair inside Phelan in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The closing sale drew a large crowd on their opening day and offered discounted prices to help clear their inventory. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Sale prices are displayed on an armchair as customers walk around and browse furniture at Phelan’s Interior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

A large crowd gathers at the front of the store as vendors help customers find the furniture they’re looking for during the closing sale at Phelan’s Interior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Savannah Blake /The Gazette)

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