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Americana Furniture to close after 97 years in business

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Waterford — Americana Furniture, a 97-year-old institution owned by the Hendel family, will be closing the doors of its large red barn for good in a few months.

Some "dear friends, loyal customers and a select few invited guests" may have received a flyer advertising the "preferred customer preview" of the going out of business sale. President Jon Hendel said the going out of business sale will start July 25 and likely last for about 90 days, meaning the store will close in October.

The goal of the protracted closure, he said, "is to take care of our customers, take care of our vendors, take care of our employees to the best of our ability." The store stopped taking custom orders at the end of June, and Hendel said there are 14 employees left.

Jon Hendel and Kathy Hansen, who is the store's head of marketing, merchandising and accounting, talked to The Day about the store's history and its closure on Friday, sitting on two of the store's many couches for sale. (Hansen said they range from about $599 to "as high as you want," with Hendel chiming in that a leather sofa could cost $10,000.)

Hendel is not sure yet what the family will do with the 45,000-square-foot display space.

In October, the Hendel family sold its Hendel's Inc. Henny Penny locations to Virginia-based Petroleum Marketing Group Inc. Hendel said the shareholders — which included his parents, three siblings, three cousins, aunt and uncle — decided to sell, but he didn't vote. The reasons Hendel gave were "capitalism, supply and demand, Trump, climate change [and] disparate family members."

"Once that business was sold, no one really wanted to be in the furniture business," Hendel said. "I have family members from Spain to Los Angeles."

Then in November, his father, Myron Hendel, died at age 90. In May, the family closed their La-Z-Boy store in Groton.

Hendel said, "From a business standpoint, between Wayfair and Bob's, Raymour's, other competition, these small, independent stores have a hard time competing."

His grandparents, Hilbert and Shirley Hendel, founded Americana Furniture in 1922, after immigrating to the United States from Eastern Europe. It has operated at its current location since the 1960s.

Hendel recalls that his grandparents were at the store from 9 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night, seven days a week. Hansen recalls Myron Hendel sharing a story of his mother remarking during a blizzard, "If Stop & Shop's open, we're open."

"Me and my siblings and my first cousins had the luxury of my father and my grandparents' hard work," Hendel said. "This family is really geographically diverse, but the positive is we've all really had American dream stories, it seems to me."

In the 1970s, Hendel said, the family owned four stores: Americana Furniture, Furniturama in Waterford, Dollars Worth in East Lyme, and Ethan Allen in Groton, which became the La-Z-Boy store.

Hendel said his grandparents mostly ran the store until his grandmother died in the early 2000s, while he and his father were primarily focused on the gas station business.

"It's generations," Hansen said of the customers. "We have people that come in and say, 'My grandparents bought here, my parents bought here and now we're buying here.'"

Between nine years at Hendel Petroleum and 20 with Americana, Hansen marvels at having spent half her life with the Hendel family, commenting, "Myron Hendel was so good to me."

She said Americana was "never a high-pressure store," and Hendel pointed to the opening of the Apple Pie Café in the store several years ago as a means for people to sit down and entertain the kids.

One change in the furniture business, Hendel said, is that "you don't get the wanderers like you did before." People used to look around three or four stores, but now they look online and come in knowing what they want. The internet has also changed how Americana advertises.

Hendel said the family has been supportive of the larger community over the years, with giving to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Lyman Allyn Art Museum and the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.


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