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Georgia Chair to close after 102 years of business in Gainesville
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Harry Bagwell, president of Georgia Chair, shows off a few rocking chairs Wednesday that were made in the Georgia Chair warehouse in Gainesville. Bagwell is planning a close-out warehouse sale in mid to late September, providing an opportunity for folks to still own a piece of furniture from the company. - photo by Erin O. Smith

After a century of building quality wooden furniture for Georgia homes and schools, Georgia Chair is closing.

The family-owned Gainesville business has produced American-made furniture primarily for school systems throughout the United States. But the Great Recession of 2008-09 meant schools were spending less on furniture, and President Harry Bagwell said the company never fully recovered.

“It’s the economy,” Bagwell said. “We realize 2008’s economy was just worse than we thought it would be. We thought we had a good recovery plan, and we worked on it pretty hard. We were going along really well with it, but some of the things we thought we could do, in the end, didn’t pan out as well as we hoped.”

According to a press release, school systems have shifted to cheaper plastic furniture since the recession in 2008 and 2009. While the company made “dramatic attempts” to adjust, it was unable to do so profitably.

“School furniture is a tax-based item, and the tax digest has not really recovered yet. So schools are just not spending their money on capital improvements as much as they are putting teachers back in classrooms,” Bagwell said. “It’s a normal progression, but it’s taken longer than most recoveries usually do.”

Bagwell said in a press release he was unwilling to compromise quality and “make a shoddy product” instead.

The company has been in the process of discontinuing operations for several months and will close officially by the end of September.

Bagwell is planning a close-out warehouse sale in mid to late September, providing an opportunity for folks to still own a piece of furniture from the company. The date of the sale will be set and announced in the coming weeks.

In 2014, Georgia Chair celebrated 100 years with plans for expansion. It signed an agreement with plans to distribute furniture in Saudi Arabia, but such efforts were not enough to keep the business afloat.

Over the company’s 100 years, its employees watched seven wars, seven stock market crashes, 16 recessions and two depressions.

It was founded by the Bagwell and Edmondson families. The Bagwells have continued to operate it to date.

Bagwell said he is grateful for the support in the community. He said many people reached out upon hearing the news of the closure, asking how they can purchase one more piece of furniture.

He said several men have called to share their stories of working for Bagwell’s grandfather or great-grandfather.

“You don’t always realize the reach you have,” he said.

After 33 years in management of Georgia Chair, Bagwell said he does look forward to doing something “new and different,” but he is grateful for his years with his family’s company.

“I’ve enjoyed doing what I’ve been doing,” he said. “This community has been very supportive of us. There’s a group of community business leaders who have helped me through the last few months, trying to give me some direction as we’ve worked through this. They’ve been invaluable, and we’re so appreciative of the community as a whole for its support.”