Flegels Design, a longtime downtown Menlo Park institution that has provided custom-made furniture and interior design services to generations of customers, will most likely be closing the doors of its showroom next to Kepler's Books on El Camino Real by the end of the year, according to third-generation owner Brian Flegel.
The company has launched a store-closing sale with up to 70% discounts on its inventory as it prepares to wind down operations at 1010 El Camino Real, Suite 90.
Started by married couple Arthur and Cleora Flegel in 1954 and passed down through three generations of the Flegel family, to the couple's son Mark and now grandson Brian, the Flegels storefront was on Menlo Park’s Santa Cruz Avenue for 65 years before it moved to its current location in March 2020 and pivoted away from selling display furniture toward a more a custom approach, relying on the expertise of its in-house interior designers.
Flegel said the relocation of the business from its landmark showroom at 870 Santa Cruz Ave., followed by the pandemic shutdown just weeks later caused Flegels to incur an insurmountable amount of debt in a short amount of time.
"We're in a dire situation in the sense that we just can't afford to stay here (at this site)," Flegel said.
First a new showroom, then a pandemic shutdown
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Flegel said he was planning the grand re-opening party for the store's new location.
The company was hit by supply chain issues that stopped him from being able to produce the custom furniture that customers wanted, he said. He instead began selling display furniture, even though the company was geared toward custom pieces.
“From the micro to the macro, I couldn't get (supplies),” Flegel told Embarcadero Media earlier this year. “I couldn't get a sofa made because nobody had any foam … I couldn't get a recliner made because nobody had any access to the mechanisms for the recliner to work.”
The pandemic fallout was the second blow to the business that "broke our knee caps," Flegel said. The sale of the family showroom on Santa Cruz Avenue in late 2019 following the death of his grandfather was the first blow. Flegel said his grandfather had used the building to support Flegels Design by charging a rental rate commensurate to the business' annual sales after the next generations – Mark and Brian – took over the company.
"The preceding year would determine the rate of rent that Flegels would pay. So if the business was going through a rough time, rent wouldn't hurt it," Flegel said. After the death of his grandfather, the building was sold as part of the settlement of his estate, which meant the business had to pay market-rate rent elsewhere.
In April, Flegel launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help the longtime company, which is a founding member of the Menlo Park Design District, stay afloat. He canceled the campaign the following month after negative feedback from some community members who criticized a for-profit company for seeking donations.
Any glimmer of hope for keeping the showroom open is now essentially gone.
Flegel emphasized that the closing of the showroom does not mean the end of the family business. Whether the company will operate a showroom elsewhere in Menlo Park or solely focus on design services from its Redwood City warehouse remains uncertain.
"I don't know right now what form Flegels make take in the future. It depends on how the sale goes. I love being in Menlo Park and being close to downtown, but I have to plan for the worst," said Flegel, who grew up working in the family business vacuuming and dusting to earn an allowance before he was old enough to make deliveries and work the showroom.
Flegel said the showroom is open Tuesday through Sunday, and Monday by appointment, for the public to shop for one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture curated from around the world over the years by the family. Most of the furniture was custom-made and hand-crafted specifically for Flegels as pieces for the showroom. Flegel said his collection includes pieces for nearly every room of the house.
Among the items for sale are solid oak, cherry and mahogany pieces from Matsuoka Furniture, a 150-year-old Japanese company noted for using traditional artisan techniques to handcraft its furniture. Flegel said the company's furniture is difficult to find outside of Japan.
Flegels' collection also includes pieces from Mobili, a 100-year-old Italian company that makes 17th- and 18th-century inlaid furniture using the same techniques passed down through generations. There's also a selection from Stickley Furniture, the American company known for producing Arts & Crafts and Mission-style pieces inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.