unknown by Tim Nolan

I started to get nervous about halfway to High Point.

My furniture-buyer costume was tight and hot and uncomfortable, my market pass twisted and caught on my sports jacket. I tried to take my mind off it, imagining the sights I was about to see — black rhino skins, dinosaur leg tables, children from the developing world being used as chairs. This was it; I was as going to see the greasy underbelly of the High Point Furniture Market.

Now I know everyone is sick of hearing about the vacant buildings in downtown High Point, but it’s difficult to overstate how similar parts of it are to the set of “The Walking Dead.” I easily found a spot to park in a long row of empty spaces across the street from a long row of empty buildings on a long empty street three blocks from my destination. I locked my car, scanned the immediate area for zombies and set off. I cut across the train station and some empty parking lots, walked past a long row of decrepit shrubbery, and across a particularly brutal concrete bridge when suddenly over the horizon, I saw the glittering oasis that is the spiritual center of the beast: Market Square.

My heart pounded at the entrance, where three police officers stood with a woman with a scanning gun. I paced around pretending to text or research. I was racking my brain for a cover story to explain how lost I looked. “I’m just an assistant,” or “This is my first time at market,” or maybe “Could you please direct me to, uh, Alan Cousins Art Acquisitions? Yeah that’s it.”

I knew if I hung out too long they would get suspicious so I just bit the bullet and went for it, desperately trying not to look nervous as I made my way to the entry queue. I kept my head down, and my shaky hand lifted my fraudulent pass to be scanned.

The woman casually scanned my tag and continued her conversation.

I was in.

I entered the space and felt an immediate pang of disappointment. Where I had expected sex and power, cocaine and opulence, I found only the eye of a swirling vortex of banal capitalism staring back. Here was a shopping mall with no registers. Long aisles were separated into makeshift booths. Sure everyone looked rich, and I couldn’t have afforded anything here, but where was the glitz, the glamour, the smoky backrooms where billionaires bet million-dollar furniture on poker games, a model on each arm? I trudged down the countless aisles and scanned for anything to report and came up with only this — the 2016 furniture trends are as follows: fake plants, fake books (yeah seriously a whole booth dedicated to fake books), headless rainbow birds, and Victorian-era furniture which appeared to be dipped in primary colored paint.

The building went on forever. It was a maze of color. I was getting uncomfortable. They could tell I wasn’t one of them and I picked up speed. I needed a drink.

I made my way through the labyrinth to a little bar area. It was as surreal as the rest of this circus. Somehow the bartender must have known I wasn’t what I appeared, because after waiting anxiously in line watching people walk away with drinks he would only pour me quarter-ounce tastes of whiskey. Was there some secret code? I managed to cobble together an ounce or so of whiskey out of five or six “samples” and steeled myself to return to the fray. Down a metal staircase and onward. Up another staircase to the children’s section, with $30,000 bedroom sets made to look like airplane cockpits or spaceships. Down another flight to what looked like a massive antique store, stopping at the little wine and cheese carts with confused bartenders to hydrate.

I was on my fourth or fifth plastic four-ounce cup when I came upon a massive brick courtyard filled with people at the far side of the building. The “traditionally Southern” catering and middle-aged cover band created the overall effect of a summer cookout in your rich friend’s backyard.

I made my way to the buffet line and filled my plate with free barbecue and green bean salad, and found a spot out of the way in the corner to sit and think. What is the story of the furniture market?

I sat there for awhile watching the throngs of rich, middle-aged people from all over the world. I watched them in the middle of this city-within-a-city drunk on one cup of wine, letting their hair down and dancing. I thought about the bus station, empty buildings and the man I had asked for directions who didn’t even know how to get here. I thought about the plastic furniture and all the wealth. This tiny island of prosperity that only exists twice a year felt so separate from High Point. I turned these things over in my head, drank the free wine this forged pass got me and ate my free sandwich. The party wound down and as the last chords of the Black Crowes-inspired cover of “Hard to Handle” rang into the autumn night, and a strange phrase echoed through my mind: “Don’t worry folks, things are still about the same.”

Tim Nolan is a bartender and musician living in Winston-Salem.


  1. That has to be the most ridiculous article I have ever read. You were expecting sex, power, cocaine and opulence? Are you joking? It’s a trade show! Are you misinformed or just that ignorant? I noticed you made several references to “wealth”, so it would seem you are not very happy with your place in life. Is that where your misplaced anger is coming from?

  2. It’s like going to New York City for the 1st time, spending 30 minutes in Times Square dressed like a tourist – leaving because no one tried to sell you any drugs – then writing an article about the City saying there are too many tourists and it didn’t live up to your expectations.

  3. Hey Tim, Surprise you didn’t go to Las Vegas for a poker tournament!

    Where to start……..How about with the statement that Market Square is the Spiritual Center of the HPFM. Anyone who has a true purpose to be at furniture market knows that is no longer the case. Sounds like Tim was wondering around like a lost child in the temporaries section of Market Square and clearly spent just enough time there to write a half-witted article. Bravo Tim, you have successfully shown you are far from qualified to be an investigative reporter!

    The Furniture Industry is the Heart of High Point. High Point is full of businesses that support and profit from the market 365 days a year. Many of the empty store fronts are left empty with the purpose of hosting the furniture market. High Point may no longer be the leading manufacturer of furniture but it is a far from being separate from the market. The HPFM gives a huge boost to the economy twice a year which is something the city is thankful for after its main source of prosperity sadly went overseas. High Point has been home to the market for over a hundred years and is home to a culture of furniture for those that work in the industry and those that lives are enriched by it.

    This article is so incredibly jaded and this type of blatant ignorance isn’t worth being published.. Written by a self loathing youth who doesn’t understand economics, business, design, or have a basic knowledge of the subject he has chosen to write about. The infatuation with drugs and hookers when discussing a professional business market shows delusions of grandeur made up by an aging bartender / musician who is losing his youth and has little or nothing to show for it…. I assume. There is no little truth to this story, it is merely a tale written by an arrogant aging youth who was too lazy and immature to separate his prejudices and disappointments in his own life to truly explore the market with fresh eyes!

    • Did you know that the modern furniture market is actually the brain child of three hyper intelligent penguins? Charles and Henry were brothers,but Susan the third penguin was actually the love interest of both. Ultimately the trio were tragically killed when Henry caught Susan hatching Charles’ egg and murdered them. Being a captain of industry Henry used his contacts in law enforcement to cover the whole scandal up. Unfortunately Susan was dead and with her any chance of continuing the line of hyper-intelligent penguins.this is why in High point the third Sunday in April is referred to as “Susan’s day” Everyone in the town gathers around a large freshly dug pit and throws a single egg in to mark the sad fate of Susan.

  4. Thanks guys for the feedback! I’ve done some research and learned some more about the HPFM. Did you know that so many live cattle are sold at the furniture market each year that if you lined them up they would go to Des Moines and back?
    Secondly, the HPFM is a tradition started by Native Americans in 1385 who would trade hand made chairs for food and tobacco. Lastly there have never been any stackable sofas sold at the furniture market ever! Thanks again for commenting and I will update you on facts as they unfold!

  5. Nice work. I assume your next project will be a trip to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 and the National District Attorney’s Conference.

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