Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Abandonment Issues: Gibbard Furniture
In 2001, our family suffered a great loss when Ninja's great Aunt Eileen passed away. She was a lovely woman that was worldly and well traveled. She bestowed many gifts upon us over the years, from all over the world. But the greatest material gift that she gave us came as an inheritance: A beautiful antique Gibbard bedroom furniture set.
On our way home from Quebec City earlier this month, we decided to pay a visit to the old Gibbard Furniture building in Napanee, Ontario. We had spotted the building a few months earlier, and noted that it had shut down, but the sun had set on that day. On this day though, we had our fingers crossed that we could find our way inside, and were shocked when we pulled up on the building to see the front door wide open, and a sign reading OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
Of course, only the showroom was open to the public, as the company hopes to sell off it's last few remaining pieces of furniture. When they didn't see us enter the showroom though, we sauntered quickly into another room and made our way upstairs. We began photographing the machinery and tiptoeing from room to room. But the floorboards in the 137 year old building would not accept our footsteps in silence, and within minutes we heard someone approaching. I stepped back around a corner to let Ninja make the introductions and play dumb. We had already discussed our strategy: Pretend that we thought OPEN TO THE PUBLIC meant come on in and look around at your leisure. Our strategy on first impressions never changes: When possible, I (the long haired, bearded, tattoo covered dude) step out of the way and let Ninja (the adorable, polite, and innocent looking blonde woman) set the tone. Once a positive rapport has been established, I make my presence known with a happy jubilant excitement about the building. I fire off tidbits of history that I have accumulated prior to the visit, and ask questions in rapid succession so as to get the person engaged in a conversation and excited about my excitement. At the same time, this tends to make them more comfortable with our presence and their instinct to tell us to leave begins to fade, and is replaced with a desire to share in our excitement.
While this may seem manipulative, it is an effective strategy that is executed with good intentions, respect and manners, and flows in a natural progression.
We told him that we inherited the Gibbard furniture set, which we love. We asked when the plant closed. We apologized for our faux misinterpretation of the sign out front. We asked what his role was at the plant. And so on. We also answered his questions quickly, and finished each answer with another question to keep the conversation moving forward. Once that desired level of comfort was reached, I asked if he minds if I take a few more photos. Of course, he obliged, albeit somewhat reluctantly, as Ninja kept the conversation going. I wandered into the next room with oohs and ahhs and returned to ask questions about the machines I'd encountered. He accompanied us into that room to answer my questions. As he answered, I progressed deeper into the room, snapping photos and asking more questions. He didn't know it yet, but this was the beginning of our guided tour. While it was a methodical strategy, my excitement wasn't just for show, it was genuine. My energy tends to rub off on people, and within another minute, he made the offer that I already knew was coming.
He showed us every nook and cranny of the building, and shared the process of furniture making from beginning to end. He took us from floor to floor on what he claimed to be the oldest elevator in Canada still in operation. He also stated that the elevator would be shut down in two weeks time, to save costs. He took us into the receiving department, where the wood entered the building and was placed into large kilns for drying. He took us into the dark dungeon like basement, and showed us the original boiler, which was the size of a train car. He guided us through room after room on every floor, explaining the processes that each machine was used for, flicking the lights on and off in each area as we passed through. He spoke of past memories as a cabinet maker, and the demographics of the work force. He explained that he was kept on as the caretaker because his wife was very close with the Gibbards, and she was chosen to write the biography of the Gibbard factory and family, which is currently in the works. He told us about the company's early days, beginning at this site in 1835, and the subsequent fires that destroyed the plant twice before this building was erected in 1875, followed by 19 additions to the building. And he said that an environmental assessment is in the works, with hopes to convert the building into condominiums. At its peak of operation, there were 200 employees, but that number had dwindled to 90 by the time Gibbard closed down in 2009, he said, adding that operations were ceased due to lack of demand for high end quality furniture. He begrudgingly noted that people don't buy quality furniture anymore, they buy crap from WalMart and IKEA.
A History In Gibbard Furniture.
Extra special thanks to our tour guide and host. He was a very pleasant man, and we were very grateful for his generosity and kindness.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES