St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Ralph Galloway, furniture guru, at 86


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2002

When Becky Cormier was hired to work at Galloway's Contemporary Furniture and Interior Design, she was warned about the store's owner.

When Becky Cormier was hired to work at Galloway's Contemporary Furniture and Interior Design, she was warned about the store's owner.

Don't talk to Mr. G, they said. He's a tough guy, a perfectionist, and he never talks to new hires.

Within a half-hour of her first day on the job, Cormier knew nothing could be further from the truth.

"I hit it off with him immediately," Cormier said of her employer, Ralph Galloway. "I knew all about his operations within 25 minutes of being here."

Mr. Galloway, the founder and owner of one of South Tampa's oldest and most successful furniture businesses, died Sunday, Oct. 20 of a heart attack. He was 86.

"All of his employees are just crazy about him," said his son, John Galloway. "He held his employees to a high standard, and they loved him for it. They excelled, and today, there are 15 very sad people down at the store."

A native of North Carolina, Mr. Galloway arrived in Tampa after World War II, having been stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

His family had been in the restaurant business, and Mr. Galloway had a background in making bars and chairs for dining establishments. He began selling his pieces to make ends meet, and before long, he realized he had a business on his hands.

Starting from scratch in 1945, he was able to open his own furniture store by 1948. At one point in the 1950s, he had seven stores, from Orlando to Sarasota to Clearwater, and one factory.

His specialty was contemporary furniture, which took off in popularity after the 1950s. He was a voracious student of furniture design, traveling to furniture shows in locales as far away as Milan, Italy.

For many years, every piece of furniture he sold went through his hands, Cormier said.

"He was completely tireless in how he ran his store," said Cormier, who worked with Galloway for 30 years. "He was a perfectionist to the point that he felt he and only he knew how to build furniture, and he was going to set the furniture world straight on how things should be made."

"Mr. G," as his employees called him, worked by those principles every day.

He was the "toughest guy ever," said his accountant, Juanita Robiou. "He was very business-focused. This business was his life. He lived for this business and enjoyed what he did. It was like second nature."

Cormier said she's witnessed four generations of families come into the store to purchase Mr. Galloway's furniture.

"It was like the furniture Laundromat," she said. "You came in at 9 a.m. and you bought a piece of furniture, that furniture was in your home in less than seven days, completely manufactured. And it was made perfectly."

Galloway closed many of his stores in the 1970s, when he felt it best to concentrate on just one store in Tampa. But he continued to come into that store on Henderson Boulevard until this year.

"He always said he was pursuing excellence, whether it was furniture design or manufacturing or bringing products to the market," John Galloway said. "Were it not for poor health earlier this year, he would be working still."

Mr. Galloway was preceded in death by his wife, Reva, in 1985. His survivors include a son, John; a daughter, Laura Petrides of Chapel Hill, N.C.; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the MacDill Avenue Chapel of Blount, Curry & Roel Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, with graveside services at Fairview Cemetery in Sylva, N.C.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.