Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture Store in Cary Closing

Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture Store in Cary Closing

August, 22, 2012, by Jedidiah

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After the demise of Cherry Modern Furniture and a few other second-hand modern shops closed in the past few years, the only places to grab contemporary and modern furniture locally was Father and Son Antiques in Downtown Raleigh and Nowell's Contemporary Furniture in Cary. Unfortunately, Father and Son will remain the one of the lone sellers of modern furniture as Nowell's has announced that it is closing its doors. 

Nowell's was a huge supporter of the local design community and it's sad to see it go. The store is having a going out of business sale and want you to come grab some of the great gems that remain in store. Go over to their website to get the details. 

Below is the Nowell's Press Release, explaining more about the shop's reasons for closing. We wish Jerry and family the best.

Owner Jerry Nowell, who was diagnosed with Multiple Myaloma in 2010, announced the closing recently.

“I'm now unable to work,” Jerry said. “At first, we thought my wife [Kit] would run the store. And she has since March of this year. But we did some soul searching and realized that we wanted to spend some time together. Retail is a seven-days-a-week business. That’s one of the reasons why we finally decided it was time to put this thing to bed.”

William McKee Nowell, Jerry’s grandfather, began the store 1905 by selling furniture out of the back of a horse-drawn cart. His merchandise was so popular that he moved it into a storefront in the now-historic Prairie Building in downtown Raleigh. Jerry’s mother and father inherited the store and moved it to its current location in Cary in 1957.

Since then, there have been a lot of “firsts” in store’s history. In 1968, Nowell’s was the first furniture store in the Triangle region to challenge the “blue laws.” The blue laws were enacted to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship, restricting Sunday shopping. Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture helped start a movement to remove those laws in North Carolina.

“We were also among the first in the area -- possibly the first -- to have a diverse sales team,” Jerry noted. “We were also the first all-contemporary furniture store in North Carolina.”

Jerry Nowell holds a PhD in Political Theory. He was teaching at UNC-Greensboro in 2001 when his older brother, who had been running the store since their father’s retirement, suddenly decided to retire himself. That presented the Nowell family with a choice: either close up shop right then or Jerry would have to come home and take over management.

“I set a goal to get to the 100-year mark, which we did in 2005,” Jerry said.

And they kept going, racking up Readers Poll wins for the “best place to shop for contemporary furniture in the Triangle” year after year from Spectator magazine, the Independent Weekly, and Metro Magazine. In 2010, Business Leader magazine named Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture one of the top 100 small businesses in the state.

Since Jerry took over management, the store has also been a good corporate citizen. “We’ve raised and donated roughly $30,000 over the past 11 years to organizations such as Interact, cancer research, and Camp Kanata,” Jerry said. “We've also sponsored a little league team.”

Nowell’s Contemporary Furniture has also been one of Triangle Modernist Houses’ (TMH) primary sponsors. TMH is a non-profit organization dedicated to archiving, preserving and promoting modernist residential design from the 1950s to today. Among other support, Nowell’s has been the naming sponsor for TMH’s annual Nowell’s Architecture Movie Series, and Jerry Nowell has served on the TMH advisory board.

Jerry has also served on the Cary Players’ Board of directors, allowed the community theater troupe to store props in Nowell’s warehouse and to use the store’s truck to load shows in an out, and the store has been a consistent advertiser in the Players’ programs.

After Jerry was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, he kept working as long as he could. But his treatments eventually made it impossible for him to keep up with the seven-day-a-week schedule.

Kit Nowell took over for a while. But according to Jerry, there was more to their decision to close than his health and the store’s demanding schedule.

“We've also found the business moving in a direction that we don't really like,” he admitted. “We've always offered good values, but we've never sacrificed quality or service for price. People are getting more and more price conscious now, to the point that we either must lower the level of quality or the level of service, and we don't want to do that. We knew that if it reached the point where we could no longer be proud of what we do it would be time to retire. And that's where we are.”

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Nowells Contemporary Furniture

  • GB
    08/22 01:32 PM

    ...and Ambiente is chopped liver?

  • Furniture Buyer
    08/22 02:46 PM

    Ambiente has been around for quite a few years and is 4x the size as Nowells.  I went to Nowells a few times.  Their prices were too high.  their sales people were snobbish and rude.  I took my business to Ambiente and never looked back.  Nowells lost out on over $20k of furniture sales.

  • TheRedHeadedKidFromProblemChild2
    08/22 03:21 PM


  • Eric
    08/23 01:33 PM

    There’s a new place in Durham called “Relic” it’s kind of behind Rue Cler.

  • curious
    08/23 02:04 PM

    You should check out Screaming for Vintage in the basement of beggars and choosers.

  • Jerry Nowell
    08/24 11:38 AM

    @Furniture Buyer 08/22 02:46 PM: Our store is 20,000 square feet, vs about 30,000: they are larger, but not 4 times. I don’t know what accounts for your experience of our sales staff as snobbish. You must have caught us on an “off” day. Please accept my sincere apology. As for the prices, we warrant all regularly priced merchandise for five years. Consequently, we only carry quality merchandise that we can stand behind. Our prices could be lower, but we’d have to offer lower quality merchandise and we believe (perhaps foolishly) that there is still a market for high quality contemporary furniture in RTP. The main reasons we’re closing flow from my health (I was diagnosed with an incurable form of blood plasma cancer in 2010), but I have to say that now is a good time to retire. Nowell’s has always sought to offer good values, but we refuse to do so at the expense of quality or service. This has proven to be a problem in this economy—more and more people are concerned only with low price. If we can’t feel proud of what we’re doing here at Nowell’s, it’s time to hang it up. The past few years have been about my love of good contemporary design. The next few years are going to be about my love of my family and desire to spend time with them.

  • Katie
    08/24 03:47 PM

    Have a wonderful retirement!  I have always loved your store!  It will be greatly missed! Enjoy your family!

  • tk
    08/30 11:35 AM

    Sorry to hear you are closing your doors, you are an institution if ever there was one in Raleigh, just bought a light there yesterday (25% off!!) love it. Take care and thank you for the 107 years of great design.

  • Steve
    09/04 10:27 PM

    It is seldom that we actually get to see the modern classics in real life. Now we will have to order from the internet and hope they look as good as the photos.

    One thing you could do is support local modern furniture makers somehow. Offer design reviews, manufacture and marketing support.

    Best of luck in your recovery!

  • joe ellis
    12/06 12:11 PM

    thank you jerry…the kindness you have shown me, i will pass it on.

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