HIGH POINT — The crowds were a bit thinner than unusual. Some big names were absent due to continuing COVID-19 restrictions in their corner of the world.
But as the rain clouds over High Point parted on Friday, a sense of optimism pervaded the showrooms in and around downtown.
The High Point Market officially begins Saturday. But many exhibitors began welcoming attendees on Friday.
At the International Home Furnishings Center, one of the main showroom spaces for the Market, people were lined up in the lobby waiting to get their badges scanned for entry. The hallways inside were bustling with buyers checking out the items on displays, along with workers going to and fro putting the finishing touches on showrooms.
Food trucks set up outside, small stages offered up live music and exhibitors reconnected with cherished customers.
“We’re excited to get back to somewhat of a normal Market,” said Tom Conley, president and chief executive officer of the High Point Market Authority. “Sales are way up, though orders are taking so long to fill because of the supply-chain issues. ... But the mood will be interesting. This is a chance for principals to sit down at a table and have some candid conversations they haven’t been able to have in more than a year.”
Last year’s spring Market, which was scheduled for April, was canceled just as COVID-19 restrictions were taking hold across the country. A scaled back Market took place in October, with only about 70% of the typical number of exhibitors in attendance. It was broken up into three phases over nine days to limit crowding.
At this year’s Market, Conley said many international buyers and sellers are unable to attend, as restrictions remain in place for travelers from Europe, China and India, among other areas.
“We think we’ll be down about 10% from the international perspective, as well as down another 10 or 15%,” he said. “But given how quickly the CDC changed their mind on masking, and how Gov. Cooper followed those recommendations, it’ll be a heck of a lot better than what it was.”
None of the main buildings required face coverings, though individual showrooms could request visitors wear them. Some had signs asking those who have not yet been vaccinated to wear one.
About a quarter to half of those in attendance Friday had one on.
In some cases, people were still unsure whether or not they should shake hands.
At BDI, a Virginia-based maker of home and office furniture, vice president of marketing Dave Adams was showing some adjustable tables and desks. One coffee table had a top that could be lifted up on a frame and converted into a work area. With so many people working from home over the past year, such items have been especially popular.
“It’s very nice to be back here again, seeing people face to face,” he said. “People are eager to get out and about to see their partners and their friends. A lot of the furniture industry is, for lack of a better term, ‘old school.’ They enjoy the facetime and kicking the tires on the furniture they want to buy. Some people are very eager to get back to that. Virtual presentations only go so far.”
Ana Hurtado, the CEO of Spanish furniture maker Hurtado, was focusing attention on the company’s Emerald and Coral collections and greeting some longtime customers. She said so far she has been pleasantly surprised by the number of people in attendance.
“We felt that maybe it would be October before it started to feel normal,” she said. “But people feel pretty comfortable right now."
Ben Copeland, director of sales and marketing for Vermont-based Copeland Furniture, said the company’s showroom received about a quarter of its normal traffic last year. He expects that to increase to about half at this Market.
“Those of us who work in sales have been going stir crazy not being able to travel, so it’s very nice from the social and relationship side of things to see our customers,” he said. “We’re just trying to produce as much product as we can right now.”