The People's Tribune

Waters Furniture Set To Close In Vandalia After More Than 125 Years In Business

Waters Furniture Company, one of Vandalia’s oldest businesses, will soon be closing its doors following a liquidation sale that begins later this week.

Doors to all of the buildings have been locked and banners have been hung in windows and on walls announcing the closure and upcoming merchandise sale.

The business was started in 1892 by W.S. Waters. It has overcome a few of fires throughout the years, in 1944, 1965 and 1966, and has been a Vandalia landmark with people traveling from St. Louis, Jefferson City and other areas to shop for furniture.

The business was purchased by Wright Furniture and Flooring out of Hannibal in 2005. Chris Watson and Bryan Wright are co-owners of the businesses, along with Howard’s Furniture in Bowling Green.

Watson said the decision to close Waters Furniture was a difficult one. He added it has been discussed for the past five to seven years, though.

“As far as merchandise, we have the same things at Hannibal. That means we have double the inventory and double the overhead. This is more of a consolidation. We’re not going out of business. We’re just closing this location,” Watson explained.

He noted that while there was a time when customers would travel long distances to purchase furniture, the times have changed.

“It’s not good, but it’s a sign of the times. Patterns have changed. We’ve done a lot of research and this is happening all over the country.”

Waters Furniture currently employs eight people. Watson said it is not known what the future will hold but noted some may transfer to the stores in Hannibal or Bowling Green.

“There are still things up in the air. We will just have to see how it all works out.”

Watson said there are no plans at this time to close the Bowling Green location (Howard’s Furniture).

“The people in Bowling Green have been fabulous and loyal to the store.”

It is also not known at this time what the future will be for the 10 buildings in Vandalia that house merchandise for Waters Furniture.

Watson stressed the decision to close Waters was not a sudden one.

“We have been discussing for five to seven years when the right time to consolidate would be,” he remarked. “We had the same merchandise in Hannibal and Vandalia. The same sofas, the same bedroom sets, we had two of everything.”

He noted the company will continue to service everything that has been purchased at Waters Furniture through the Hannibal and Bowling Green stores.

Watson said there will be at least $3 million worth of merchandise available in the liquidation sale, which includes items in the 10 buildings. He noted that some extra inventory that had already been purchased by the company will be brought in as well for liquidation.

The sale officially begins on Friday, Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. However, Watson noted that a “private” sale will start on Wednesday, Aug. 8. He said invitations were sent as mailers.

“Obviously if someone comes in on Wednesday no one is going to tell them they can’t come in.”

Watson said a professional sales company was hired to help with the liquidation sale. He said it is anticipated Waters will remain open another 60-90 days until the conclusion of that sale, but may close sooner depending on how the sale goes.

A Bit of History

A gas explosion claimed the building that was built in 1905 in the 100 block of East State Street on Saturday, Jan. 15, 1944. According to a Vandalia history book it remains one of the worst fires ever in the town. The smell of gas had been detected three days prior but the source couldn’t be found. The explosion occurred at 12:45 p.m. and claimed another building and damaged several others. Vandalia’s Fire Department was aided by Perry, Mexico and Bowling Green. Firefighters were placed on roofs of nearby buildings and people came to retrieve money and safe deposit box contents at a nearby bank. Flames reportedly reached higher than the water tower and smoke could be seen for miles in every direction. Volunteers are even pictured manning fire hoses to help with the disaster.

W.S. Waters began making plans to rebuild even while the fire was still raging. Firefighters and crews were able to push the exterior brick walls in on itself to prevent further damage. Waters did rebuild in the same location and replaced the inventory.

Waters Furniture Store and Funeral Home was destroyed by a blaze on Tuesday, June 15, 1965. Similar to the fire in 1944, all that remained was the exterior brick walls. Firefighters from Perry, Mexico and Bowling Green once again assisted in the effort.

Another fire in a Waters Furniture warehouse occurred on May 5, 1966. It is known as the most costly fires because it claimed the life of volunteer firefighter Don Uhey. After helping at the scene of the blaze, Uhey reported chest pains and later collapsed and died at the scene before medical assistance could arrive.

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