Thomasville Furniture began as Thomasville Chair Company in 1904, making 500 to 1000 chairs a day by 1905.
With over 5000 employees at the peak, Thomasville Furniture earned an international reputation for producing quality furniture. However, that did not last. Thomasville Furniture fell apart when the manufacturing companies migrated to China. By 2010, every chair and furniture production company in Thomasville ceased all operations, dispelling the income of most of the middle class. The entire city’s future was at risk and it has had difficulty rebounding. Thus, many city officials have abandoned the heritage of the town and have considered new pathways and identities.
In June of 2017, when City Council member Wendy Sellars learned of the work I did to help launch Forge Greensboro Makerspace, she requested that I set up a community workshop in Thomasville. At first I was hesitant. However, since my mother used to work in an outlet store and lost her job and since my first job out of college was at Thomasville Furniture, I realized that I could not say no to helping revitalize Thomasville’s manufacturing economy. Thus, the name Chair City MAKERspace was coined.
Later, we recalled the successful Build A Bear workshops at malls, where customers could pick out components of a teddy bear and walk out of the store with their own stuffed bear that they helped make. So I thought, “Why not Build A Chair?”
Excitedly, I immediately shared the news on Facebook. “You heard it first, Thomasville, NC is going to have a Chair City MAKERspace.”
That post proved to be fortunate, as an old acquaintance, Andrew Clement, responded that he wanted to help. Unbeknownst to me, over the last three semesters, Clement, a licensed general contractor and mentor to wayward young men, was becoming the shop teacher at Thomasville High School.
So a partnership was formed, a non profit established, a plan developed, and three months later the Chaircity MAKERspace was hosting Maker Pop Up events to get the community familiar with makerspace concepts. We raised money for the shop class equipment and to send students to future skills USA competitions.
News of the idea quickly spread, and numerous other retirees and citizens got excited about the prospect of bringing back the city’s sense of identify and pride.
Originally, we planned on allowing individuals to order chair kits and make them with help of students. Then in July, the focus changed, due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and Irma and the divisive anger on horrific display in Charlottesville and other places around the world.
So we had another revelation: why not prove to the world that different people can work together to build a chair? So we planned a community build. Numerous area chambers sent out flyers, posted announcements, shared calendars, and several news outlets joined in spreading the news about chair making returning to Thomasville.
On September 9th 40+ attendees gathered in the Bandstand behind the famous Giant Thomasville Chair. There were people from all kinds of backgrounds. There were people of European, South American, African and India descent. Some were old, young, big, small, male, or female. Even hated rivals Carolina and Duke fans, as well as Thomasville High and rival Lexington High grads, joined together and put aside their differences to build a chair as a group.
To kick off the historic occasion, two Thomasville High School ROTC students, brought in the U.S. and NC flags, followed by a maker carrying the parts of the chair kits and prototype chair. They marched to the bandstand while a 14-year-old guitar whiz played the National Anthem. Video of that event was played during World Maker Faire New York and a room of attendees stood and saluted for the maker styled version of the National Anthem.
Preety Chandra, (originally from India and an IT engineer at Honda Jet HQ in Greensboro) led the team. After her team assembled a chair, they celebrated and enthusiastically took group photos with her children and signed the bottom of the chair. When the Thomasville Mayor Raleigh York signed his proclamation of the first chair officially produced in the city in years, everyone erupted with cheers!
The Chair City MAKERspace held another Build A Chair event on September 23. Tom Conley, the CEO of High Point Market Authority, led the lumber guard ceremony by carrying the first chair. This time, a group of about 45 people emerged to build chairs, and offered encouragement and support for the Chair City MAKERspace quest to grow skills, jobs, and community unity.
On October 7th, 20 cub scouts showed up. Their arrival coincided with that of two ponies, a wood finishing company, and numerous other employers. Drone demonstrations were also held.
So much more than chairs are being built here. It’s also communal pride, unity, a stronger sense of purpose, and valuable skills that employers desperately need. Let’s all make it happen and build a chair!
A chair made of out wooden coat hangers is in development and future dates are being planned. Contact [email protected] if you have any questions.