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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 8, 2002

Furniture retailer Ashley may open in Hawai'i

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

One of the nation's largest furniture manufacturers is negotiating an agreement to open its first big-box retail store in Hawai'i as part of a rapid expansion in the United States and Canada.

Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., of Arcadia, Wis., said through a company spokeswoman that it has plans to establish an Ashley Furniture HomeStore in Hawai'i but could not release details because a deal is still being worked out.

Though there is a chance the deal could fall apart, the plan, if successful, would help fill a gap left by HomeLife Furniture, which last year shut down all its stores nationwide, including one at Sears at Ala Moana Center and one at the Sears distribution center in Pearl City.

Ashley Furniture is a mid-price furniture maker that last year had more than $1 billion in sales. The company expanded into factory-direct retailing in 1997 by licensing its name to operators of independently owned outlet stores that sell only Ashley Furniture merchandise. Today the company licenses about 80 HomeStores.

Local retail analyst Stephany Sofos said the strength of residential real estate development and sales in Hawai'i are encouraging expansion of home furnishing retailers such as Ashley Furniture and Inspiration Furniture, which is building a $25 million interior design center on Kapi'olani Boulevard.

"The hottest market in retail now is home furnishings," she said. "Everybody's buying houses. Everybody's cocooning."

In the first half of this year, there were 4,215 sales of existing single- and multi-family homes in O'ahu. That's up more than 10 percent from the same period last year. Developers also sold more than 500 new homes to buyers in the first six months of the year.

More than one real estate observer suggested the Ashley Furniture HomeStore is tentatively planned for Waikele Center, inside a space that has been vacant since 1998 when Foodland Super Market Ltd. closed its Sack 'n Save Foods store.

A Foodland spokeswoman said the company recently reached an agreement to sublease the 50,000-square-foot space, but she said she could not identify the prospective sublessor because of a confidentiality agreement.

A representative of Waikele Center also would not comment.

Locally, Ashley Furniture supplies a few retailers, including Z-Interiors and Furnitureland, affiliates of local furniture retailer C.S. Wo, as well as the Navy Exchange. Representatives of C.S. Wo did not return calls.