Showroom City

Real Estate and Resistance in the Furniture Capital of the World

2021
Author:

John Joe Schlichtman
Foreword by Harvey Molotch

A unique and engaging account of local urban decision-making within the globalizing world

Showroom City is a story of exclusionary growth and unchecked development, of a city flailing to fill the void left by its dwindling factories. It engages the lessons behind High Point, North Carolina’s deindustrialization as well as its stunning reinvention, revealing how power operates locally and how citizens may affirm, exploit, influence, and resist the takeover of their community.

High Point, North Carolina, is known as the “Furniture Capital of the World.” Once a manufacturing stronghold, most of its furniture factories have closed over the past forty years, with production shipped off to low-wage countries. Yet as manufacturing left, the city tightened its hold on a biannual global exposition that serves as the world’s furniture fashion runway. At the High Point Market, visitors from more than one hundred nations traverse twelve million square feet of meticulous design. Downtown buildings—once courthouses, movie theaters, post offices, and gas stations—are now chic showroom spaces, even as many sit empty between each exposition.

In Showroom City, John Joe Schlichtman applies an ethnographic lens to the global exposition’s relationship with High Point after it defeated rival Chicago in the 1960s and established itself as the world’s dominant furniture center. In recent decades, following trends in global finance, private equity firms were increasingly behind downtown High Point’s real estate transactions, coordinated by buyers far removed from the region. Then, in one massive transaction in 2011, a firm funded by Bain Capital purchased every major showroom building, and the majority of downtown real estate was under one owner.

Showroom City is a story of exclusionary growth and unchecked development, of a city flailing to fill the void left by its dwindling factories. But beyond that Schlichtman engages the general lessons behind both High Point’s deindustrialization and its stunning reinvention as a furniture fashion, merchandising, and design node. With great nuance, he delves deeply to reveal how power operates locally and how citizens may affirm, exploit, influence, and resist the takeover of their community.

John Joe Schlichtman is associate professor of sociology at DePaul University. He is coauthor of Gentrifier.



Harvey Molotch is emeritus professor of social and cultural analysis and sociology at New York University

Contents


Foreword


Harvey Molotch


Introduction: An Empty and Impeccable Downtown


Part I. Out of the Mills: How a Small City Made it in the World


1. The Common Threads in High Point’s Uncommon Fabric


2. Hollowing Out: The All-American Downtown Goes Temp (1960s–2000s)


3. The Golden Goose: How High Point Became the World’s Market Center (1950s–1980s)


4. The Cruise Ship and the Forbidden City: Aesthetic Flair and Private Equity Come to Town (1990s–2010s)


Part II. Temp Town: The Spaces and Seasons of the Furniture Capital of the World


5. Hibernation: The Downtown Landscape During Backstage Months


6. Choreographing Mini-Manhattan: The Market Viewed through Visitors’ Eyes


7. Furniture Synergies? High Point’s Fragmented Year-Round Cluster


Part III. The Fight to Reclaim: Campaigns for a Resident-Centered High Point


8. Poking the Golden Goose: A Brief History of Protest (1960 to 2010)


9. The City Project and the Pursuit of a Living Room (2009–2014)


10. A Portion for Ourselves: Remaking High Point’s Contemporary Downtown (2012–2020)


Conclusion: Integrating High Point’s Frontstage and Backstage


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index