Covert’s: Portsmouth’s Only Remaining Home-owned Furniture Store
A century ago, Portsmouth and other communities along the Ohio River were reeling from one of the most devastating weather events in Ohio’s history. More than 400 died, and more than 20,000 homes were destroyed following the 48-hour downpour that began on Easter Sunday.
In the wake of the 1913 flood, something else was born. And it remains today in a building on Gallia Street in Portsmouth as a testament to the hard work and perseverance of one local family.
Larkin Covert was a young newlywed when the flood hit his town. Using connections from his in-laws’ Ironton, Ohio, antique business, Covert drove two hours north to Columbus to pick up mattresses and blankets for the many in Scioto County who needed them. He didn’t make much on the transaction – only charging 25 cents per mattress – but soon people rebuilding their homes were asking him to find rugs, linoleum and appliances.
In 1919, young Larkin put his traveling salesmanship under roof, opening Covert’s Furniture in New Boston, Ohio. The business thrived there for four decades, during which time Larkin’s son Donald grew up, went to fight in the war and returned to join his father in business. It was Donald who pushed for expansion, and the Sciotoville location opened in 1954. A few years later, however, the New Boston stored burned down. The Covert family took their business to Portsmouth in 1958, just two doors down from its present site, and folded the Sciotoville location into it.
It was during those years that young Thomas Covert started hanging out at the Portsmouth store in the evenings, where a now-70-year-old Larkin Covert watched over his grandson while he swept the floors.
“That’s my earliest memory – coming down here on Friday nights with my grandfather while my parents went to furniture markets,” said Thomas Covert, the third-generation owner of Covert’s Furniture. “When I was 10, I got to go to Chicago for my first furniture convention.”
Thomas pretty much knew then that furniture would be his future. After college in North Carolina, he worked for Century Furniture where he learned that the manufacturing end of the operation was not where he wanted to be. So he joined the management trainee program with JC Penney. “I was their first college graduate. Computerized retail management was just beginning, and they needed someone who knew about computers and had a broader knowledge base.”
He managed several JC Penney furniture departments before getting a call from his father in 1980. “He was ready to retire, so I moved back,” Thomas said. “I wanted to see it continue, particularly after being raised in it. It’s a part of me.”
Under Thomas’ 34 years at the helm, Covert’s has continued its long tradition of quality furniture with full-service sales and servicing. “I don’t believe in selling the sizzle without the steak. Our number-one thing is the product.”
Just as three generations of Coverts have worked at the store, so have three generations of local residents filled their homes with the quality furniture and home furnishings sold there.
“People around here have had us in their homes for a long time. We even deliver to customers in Columbus who are the children of people who’ve always shopped here.”
Covert beams when he talks about how the items his store sells are cherished pieces in so many homes. “You want your home to be special, to mean something to you. And we’re here to help make that happen.”
While its merchandise costs more than that sold in big “box stores,” the higher quality stands the test of time, Covert said. And through the years, the store has tried to respond to the changing economy and community. For 35 years, the Ethan Allen brand was a mainstay, but when it became too pricey for Portsmouth, it was discontinued. Today, Covert’s major brands include Smith Brothers of Berne; Kincaid; La-Z Boy; and, more recently, Paula Deen. Covert’s is home to the only La-Z Boy Comfort Studio in the Tri-State; a design center featuring thousands of La-Z Boy fabrics is on the second floor of the two-story building. And, of course, there are still mattresses – the item that started Larkin in business a century ago.
An unyielding commitment to quality and service is what’s helped Covert’s stay in business while seven other locally-owned furniture stores in Portsmouth have closed.
“It’s a difficult business,” Thomas acknowledged. “You have to have a large amount of inventory and the room to display it. Then you have to sell it, finance it, deliver it and service it.”
The salespeople at Covert’s have decades of furniture experience and practice a no-pressure, get-to-know you approach. “We talk to people about their home and what they want for it. Sometimes it takes four or five visits before we find just the right piece for them.
“We want people to see it and touch it before they buy it. Furniture should fit your body. You have to live in it,” Covert said.
Covert’s Furniture 831 Gallia St., Portsmouth, OH
Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday