By Jura KonciusWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, July 1, 2004; Page H01
Along a abrasive automated aisle about 20 afar northeast of Baltimore, a cavernous, dimly lit amplitude already home to a briefing Kmart is awash with down-filled sofas, amber dining tables, tole lamps, silver-leaf mirrors and glass-fronted bookcases.
Where blue-light specials already flashed bargains on absterge and cat litter, shoppers now abeyance to appraise an affected Thomas O’Brien axle bank by Hickory Armchair (marked bottomward from $1,668 to $584) one anniversary or a glam Holly Hunt exclusive bargain from $22,000 to $4,498 the next.
Is that a Robert Allen chintz club armchair ($494) abutting to the decayed bonbon affectation racks? Yup. A glassy John Charles olive blooming daybed ($2,830 apparent bottomward to $728) rests abreast a calendar of biconcave Kenmore washers and dryers (some priced as low as $50) salvaged from a jack-knifed tractor-trailer.
C-Mart Home Store, a family-owned and-operated venture, is a aftereffect of C-Mart, a abatement appearance aperture about 12 afar up the alley in Forest Hill that has been alluring a cult-like afterward of shoppers back 1971. Like its predecessor, C-Mart Home has all the address and alternation of a all-inclusive barn sale: You ability drive an hour from Washington and acquisition annihilation you’d bother to booty home; or you ability blunder aloft the annular English ache dining table of your dreams.
“Oh, no. Please don’t do a chance about it. I was acquisitive I could accumulate it a secret,” said Bethesda autogenous artist Shari Daniels, who shopped at C-Mart Home aftermost ages for the aboriginal time with a client. “It’s a bit of a action to drive out there. But I was absolute abroad by how abounding pieces they had and what acceptable fabrics are on the upholstery.”
The account for the store, which opened aftermost October, comes from sources aerial and low: allowance claims, abundance liquidations and closeouts, sample sales and deliver recovery. One contempo week, seven trailers accustomed accustomed 700 pieces from the Hickory Armchair bounce bazaar exhibit in Aerial Point, N.C. C-Mart’s aloof bi-weekly ads trumpet prices 60 percent to 80 percent off manufacturers’ appropriate retail price.
“We buy bargain to advertise cheap,” says Keith Silberg, C-Mart’s carnality admiral and accepted manager. “We accept to actualize excitement. If there isn’t an aspect of fun and chance in shopping, again we would be asleep in the water.”
Excitement, yes. Ambiance, no. If you appetite to buy appliance in a abundance with adequate carpeting, beautiful vignettes and awful accomplished architecture help, C-Mart Home is not for you. There are no anxiously abiding appliance groupings, aloof rows and rows of lamps, couches, mirrors and rugs addition beyond 40,000 aboveboard anxiety of bedimmed linoleum floor. It’s carefully self-serve and as-is. A chalkboard up advanced lists circadian specials.
There is no abashment actuality in imperfection: The castors on a mohair beanbag ability be breakable from a exhibit flood, a abandoned amber dining armchair from a acclaimed maker ability accept been chipped in an earthquake. But best of the commodity has no accident at all. And if you see a adolescent guy affective appliance and yakking into his corpuscle phone, it ability able-bodied be Silberg, who is affairs new being as fast as he can acquisition it.
“Basically we’re a ancestors administration store,” says Silberg, 31, the fourth bearing of his ancestors in the discounting world. His grandparents were in the accouterment business as jobbers and middlemen. “My grandparents began it all by accomplishing deals and again affairs it cheap.”
But it was Silberg’s uncle, Douglas Carton, who started the aboriginal retail abnormality C-Mart in Harford County 33 years ago. Carton got into the retail biz as a apprentice at the University of Maryland affairs sweaters from the block of his car. Eventually he opened a baby storefront in Bel Air he called C-Mart. (The “C” is for Carton.)
Carton congenital a acceptability for amount and alien deals, and his arbitrary aftertaste admiring adherent shoppers. In 1978, he confused to the accepted area in adjacent Forest Hill and the store’s acceptability kept growing: Kate Spade accoutrements bisected price, aggregation socks for $5 a bag, Martex ablution towels for $6 and the capacity of an allowance accident accord involving a Long Island vitamin store: zinc picolinate and aloe vera at 50 percent off.
Over the years the abundance has awash ultra-luxe bedding from Frette and Pratesi, artist dresses from Henri Bendel and truckloads of cottony and cashmere blazers from Bijan. “Jackie O” Gucci handbags spotted beforehand this anniversary ($599 apparent bottomward to $190) were the byproduct of a “government seizure,” says Silberg.
Carton, now 55, was planning to go into semi-retirement a brace of years ago back Silberg started advancement that they aggrandize into home accoutrement in a big way. Carton’s son, Evan, aloof out of college, was accessible to accompany the business. So the aftereffect operation of C-Mart Home was in the works with a new bearing of accord makers.
“The allurement of abatement accouterment is not what it was 30 years ago,” says Silberg. “It’s adamantine to get addition from Philly to drive 100 afar to save $300 on a suit. But they ability drive bottomward actuality to save $5,000 on a bedchamber set.”
They active a charter in a abandoned Kmart at Joppatowne Plaza aftermost abatement and trailers of adipose and copse appliance started assuming up. Four trucks of Thomasville and Lexington commodity accustomed from a aggregation that had had an allowance loss. Silberg went to the Aerial Point bazaar in October and April and bought appliance samples appropriate off the exhibit floor. He snagged capacity from the to-the-trade alone Beacon Hill exhibit at New York’s D&D Building afterwards an allowance loss.
Customers started accession from adjacent towns, as able-bodied as from Philadelphia and Washington. (Delivery to Washington is about $80 for the aboriginal two pieces of furniture; the close is attractive for a bigger area for the home store, possibly afterpiece to Baltimore or Washington.)
On Monday, Brenda Brooks of Baltimore, who has shopped at the aboriginal C-Mart for years, accustomed to aces up a chest and a white lamp table she’d bought. Brooks says she stops by about already a month, generally with a agenda camera in tow so she can e-mail photos to a acquaintance in Frederick attractive for a baby atramentous sofa.
“The affection is fabulous, ” she said, advertence a chiffonier she had bought a few trips ago from Thomasville’s Humphrey Bogart collection. “You never apperceive what you are activity to find.” And with that, she fell aloft a adequate Louis XV-style covering addition armchair by Hickory Armchair apparent bottomward from $3,477 to $1,391 and added it to her bill. “I should not accept come,” she said in one animation but again mentioned that she had spotted two Bernhardt trucks in the parking lot so she may acknowledgment abutting week.
These canicule C-Mart employs 100 workers at the two food and e-mails a account account of specials to 11,000 barter who accept active up for them. The stores’ handwritten ad, bound by Silberg, runs every Thursday in the Baltimore Sun. (A contempo example: “5 trailers of mattress, sofas, recliners from a abode area being is ‘unclaimed’ — until now.”)
“We don’t analysis spelling or grammar and my spelling is bad,” says Silberg. One bounded academy alike had a accepted appointment appointment on Thursday nights to actual misspellings in the C-Mart ad. (Note to Keith: It’s bombe chests, not bombee.)
Have bounded accustomed appliance food acquainted attenuate by C-Mart’s approach? “We are generally introducing high-end brands to our customers,” says Silberg. “They end up affectionate the affection and again attractive for more.” Because C-Mart’s banal is bound and unpredictable, salespeople generally acquaint barter area to go to see added pieces from a accurate manufacturer.
Silberg, who has two adolescent sons, is psyched about the home venture. “Everyone who enters a ancestors business fears they ability blend it up. However, it ability accord my sons a acumen to appear into it. Without the appliance end, it ability accept been tough.”
On a contempo appointment to C-Mart Home, we spotted an affected oval-shaped chartreuse ottoman by acclaimed Manhattan artist Mariette Himes Gomez for Hickory Chair, apparent bottomward from $1,995 to $599. Nearby, endless of 12-packs of 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade were apparent $10.30. And aloof what are those accomplishing in a home abundance that sells high-end artist furniture?
Says Silberg: “Just addition deal.”
C-Mart Home Store, 1000 Joppa Farm Rd., Joppatowne, Md.; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Wednesday for restocking; 410-538-6100, www.cmartdiscount.com.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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