A sign in the Evansville Association for the Blind’s furniture showroom reads, “When life gives you lemons…” The metaphor of making lemonade is fitting for EAB. For 55 years, the nonprofit organization serving blind and visually impaired individuals performed subcontract work for Whirlpool. The company’s jobs helped provide employment for 110 workers with disabilities and accounted for half of EAB’s total revenue. In August 2009, Whirlpool’s news that it would close its Evansville refrigerator plant sent the organization reeling.
But on June 25, 2010, the same day Whirlpool shut its doors for good, EAB made lemonade by welcoming shoppers into its new venture: a furniture and mattress showroom. Overseen by Pat Coslett, a 40-year veteran of the local furniture industry, the store occupies a sprawling second-floor area that once housed factory operations. “Up here,” Coslett says, “we’re reinventing ourselves.”
Much about EAB’s new showroom resembles a typical furniture store. Rows of cozy, colorful recliners stretch across the floor, and sofas and chairs are neatly grouped around coffee tables in miniature living-room scenes. Spread throughout the store are solid wood bedroom sets, clusters of pub tables and chairs (including one seen in the kitchen of the 2010 Evansville Living Downtown Idea Home), and sturdy wooden bunk beds. New items arrive weekly at EAB’s furniture store, which also offers layaway, free delivery, the ability to custom-order pieces, and a willingness to haggle over prices.
Despite the similarities, compared to a standard furniture shop, “it’s not the same thing at all,” Coslett says. The major difference: One hundred percent of the money customers spend at the store goes back into the Evansville Association for the Blind, which provides a staggering range of services such as orientation and mobility training, a career development center, and in-home therapy for infants and children.
The store focuses on brands produced nearby, such as Ferdinand, Ind.’s Best Home Furnishings and England Furniture, a La-Z-Boy company with a factory in East Tennessee. The selection represents a variety of styles: A formal, elegant red-and-gold living room set has won over shoppers with traditional tastes. A sleek swivel pod chair has an urban-chic aesthetic, and a gently distressed coffee table evokes a laid-back, country feel.
Still, in this store, “it’s not about the furniture,” Coslett says. Pointing to a table covered with photographs of EAB employees at work, he adds, “This is where your money is going.”
EAB’s Furniture and Mattress Center
500 N. Second Ave. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday,
9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. 812-422-1181