Fresh Eyes: An inside view of the High Point Furniture Market

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Lauren Thomasby Lauren Thomas

I have been a fan of your newspaper since its very first issue; I have multiple friends who work on the paper and I’m proud of all the good work you’ve done for the Triad with Triad City Beat. I read a piece you posted to your website yesterday, “Fresh Eyes: An impostor at Furniture Market [by Tim Nolan; Oct. 27, 2015],” and wanted to write to you in the hopes of clarifying a few points your reporter made.

I worked at this most recent furniture market in the Market Square building and I recognized many of the, er, landmarks that your reporter described. I worked at the market for 11 days in a foodservice capacity, so while I was certainly considered (and sometimes treated as) “the help,” I feel it necessary to point out that I have never encountered more kind or interesting people in my whole life.

Yes, the market is quite a surreal and eye-opening exploration of some of the most frivolous aspects of capitalism. There are certainly booths and showrooms full of ostentatious items that plebeians like us could never hope to afford, should we desire to, but they were also full of people who were thoughtful and caring and never forgot a name or neglected to thank the custodial or maintenance staff for all their hard work.

I imagine it must have been distressing for your reporter not to receive the amount of free alcohol he felt he was due. As for myself, even though non-badge-holders were technically not allowed any of the free alcohol offered in the evenings, I never had a problem getting a beer or two after I finished an average 12-hour day of work. Perhaps it was because I made the effort to be kind to every person I encountered, especially the bartenders and other service workers, because the market is a stressful time for everybody, including the exhibitors, designers and buyers.

Sure, fake books were popular at the market this year, but so were local family-owned businesses, small-scale manufacturers, and many artists and creators using repurposed and recycled materials with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of the furniture industry. The “$30,000 bedroom sets made to look like airplane cockpits or spaceships” cost nowhere near your reporter’s estimated price. From the very first day of setup to load-out on Friday, the people that ran that particular booth were kind, funny, and were always happy to talk about their creative and unique furniture. After all, what kid wouldn’t want a bed shaped like a pirate ship?

I appreciate that your reporter is attempting to critique the blatant and exorbitant displays of the most superficial side of capitalism, but perhaps when the writer asked, “What is the story of the furniture market?” he could have made more of an effort to actually find out what that story is.

He could have talked to the hundreds (if not thousands) of poor and homeless folks who are employed (and paid fairly, from what I witnessed) twice a year to assist with load-in, setup, and load-out each Market. He could have talked to the custodial and maintenance workers, who work incredibly hard to make sure that the market runs smoothly. He could have talked to any of the International Market Centers employees, many of whom have been working for the company for decades.

He could have talked to the “three police officers [who] stood with a woman with a scanning gun.” I did. I brought these people coffee every day. Not because they asked for it, but because they had to stand on their feet for 12 hours at a time to let in badge holders and market employees and did so with a smile on their face, no matter how exhausted they were.

Perhaps the best way to explore the exploitative nature of the wealth and capitalistic hedonism on display would be to talk to the people who are affected most by the inequality inherent to capitalistic societies. Next market, I would love to bring your reporter along for a day so he can meet some folks and hopefully have a better understanding of what the Furniture Market is like.

I’ll introduce him to Bobby (or BJ, as his friends call him), the tireless custodian who made the rounds of the Market Square building for 12 hours a day, making sure that everyone’s needs were taken care of. He could meet the ladies who have worked in the Exhibitors’ Services office for decades to ensure the market runs smoothly and help everybody with any problems they encounter. We could talk to the maintenance guys, many of whom are on call 24/7, and learn about some of the difficult issues they encountered the night before, or perhaps one of the electricians that volunteered to help us figure out what had gone wrong with one of our machines.

I’ll even take him to meet some of the exhibitors, if he would like. There are two Belgian gentlemen who sell rugs who are kind and funny and have a particular taste for Earl Grey tea. There are the people who make full-body massage chairs and are more than happy to let you try them out. My uncle has one and it has done wonders for his Parkinson’s symptoms.

Perhaps the next time your publication attempts to get the inside scoop on something, the reporter could spend more than a couple hours wandering the aisles and drinking free booze. Maybe, just maybe, he could explore all aspects of the story before offering his definitive opinion on the furniture market.

Lauren Thomas is a semi-recent graduate of UNCG and lives and works in Greensboro. She enjoys gin, rock climbing and meeting new dogs.

Editor’s note: The piece in question was written by a guest columnist and not a member of Triad City Beat’s reporting staff. Senior Editor Jordan Green did cover other aspects of furniture market.

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