Showroom City

Real Estate and Resistance in the Furniture Capital of the World

2022
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.

Showroom City is an engaging and important analysis of how a small city like High Point, North Carolina, became an urban node of globalization with architectural gravitas and specialized flows of commerce, mediated by regional and racial complexities. Two competing global neoliberal logics of design shape High Point's transformation by generating new landscapes of power and conflict that bring nuance to our understanding of the ‘spaces of flows/spaces of places’ framework.

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University

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

Showroom City is an engaging and important analysis of how a small city like High Point, North Carolina, became an urban node of globalization with architectural gravitas and specialized flows of commerce, mediated by regional and racial complexities. Two competing global neoliberal logics of design shape High Point's transformation by generating new landscapes of power and conflict that bring nuance to our understanding of the ‘spaces of flows/spaces of places’ framework.

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University

Perhaps the most radical reconfiguration from High Point is the capacity to alter the meaning of time. . . . Here in High Point, there is showroom-time; it changes not only what goes on during Market weeks but also life tempo in preparing for those weeks, much of it backstage where materials are assembled and arrangements worked out. In the downtime the emptiness, as Schlichtman testifies, astonishes.

Harvey Molotch, from the Foreword

Contents

Foreword: Learning from the Outlier

Harvey Molotch

Introduction: An Empty and Impeccable Downtown

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

Part I. Out of the Mills: A Small City Goes Global

2. Hollowing Out: The “All-American" Downtown Goes Temp

3. The Golden Goose: High Point Becomes the World’s Market Center

4. The Cruise Ship and the Forbidden City: Aesthetic Flair and Private Equity Come to Town

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

5. Hibernation: The Downtown Landscape During Backstage Months

6. Choreographing Mini-Manhattan: Visitors Experience the Market

7. The Fragmented Year-Round Design Cluster

Part III. The Fight to Reclaim Downtown

8. Poking the Golden Goose: A Brief History of Local Protest

9. The City Project and the Pursuit of a Living Room

10. High Pointers Plan a Downtown for Themselves

Conclusion: Integrating Frontstage and Backstage

Appendix: The People in Showroom City

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index