A retail icon in downtown Spokane will close this summer, succumbing to increased competition from national chain stores, Internet shopping and the ripple effect of a poor economy.
Joel Ferris II started Joel Inc. in 1950 in a small storefront in the 700 block of West Sprague, where the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza stands today. In 1967, Ferris bought an old warehouse near the corner of Second and Post and developed it into the building the store operates today.
Over the course of 55 years in business the store has built a reputation as the go-to place for upscale furnishings and gifts, including Scandinavian and Danish furniture, ceramic dinnerware and Swedish glassware.
“All of our furniture has come from Joel,” said Penn Fix, owner of Dodson’s Jewelers, another long-time family-owned downtown retailer. Fix blamed the loss of Joel in part on a new generation of shoppers who don’t value customer service, choosing instead to buy things online or at large national stores that buy in bulk and offer deep discounts.
“What if you have a problem with your piece of furniture? Are they able to service it the way a Joel can?” Fix asked. “People just don’t understand what service is anymore.”
Eventually, the store was passed on to two of Ferris’ sons, Joel Ferris Jr. and his brother, Toby. Their father, a nephew of Spokane business pioneer Joel E. Ferris, died in 2002.
Joel’s final closure will likely come in early August, though going-out-of-business sales will begin in June, said Joel Ferris Jr.
“This will not be a phony closeout sale with lesser quality merchandise brought in — we will sell off all existing merchandise and fixtures and take special orders during the duration of the sale,” he said. Aside from saying the family is “reviewing options,” Ferris was mum on plans for the building at 165 S. Post.
Ferris said his father’s passion in beginning the store was the modern design movement of the post-World War II era.
“There was a simplicity and elegance to so many of the great new designs from around the world,” Ferris said. “The design imperative of the era was ‘form follows function’ and that standard was epitomized by Orrefors glassware of Sweden and Heath ceramic dinnerware, two lines that the store opened with and will be closing with.”
Ferris attributed the closure to an array of factors including competition from River Park Square and large national chains, online and catalogue shopping, and the tough economy of 2001, including the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The closure of portions of Post Street in 2001 and 2003 for enhancements and to convert it to a two-way street also didn’t help, Ferris said.
“It’s not just one thing. It’s a bunch of things that have hit at a quicker pace than we’ve been able to keep track of,” Ferris said.
The building at 165 S. Post comprises 43,000 square feet, including the basement, Ferris said. A portion of it is owned by Dorian Studios Inc., but the rest is owned by the Ferris family. The Gallery at Joel, an art gallery that opened in May 2003 in 3,400 square feet on the second floor, also eventually will close.
The store has eight full-time or part-time employees.
Joe Dinnison, a downtown developer who owns Hotel Lusso, said his family has shopped at Joel for 25 years.
“It was just a real creative custom niche market,” Dinnison said. “It’s amazing they did it for that long. They should be filled with pride at what they did bring to Spokane in elegance and quality.”