Workers scurry to get ready for furniture store opening

The new store opens Friday as part of the ongoing rebirth of the former Pinellas ParkSide mall property.

Published October 26, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - A bevy of men are moving furniture and accessories from one place to another, placing them just so to get the best decorative impact.

It's a typical sight for American Signature Furniture stores in the seven to 10 days before they open, and the one that will open 10 a.m. Friday at the Shoppes at Park Place is no exception.

"It's like an army of ants converging on a sugar cube," said Terry Corley, a district manager for the furniture chain.

The Pinellas Park store will be the first American Signature in Pinellas County. There are already two in Hillsborough and one in Sarasota. The 35,000-square-foot showroom will be the second major store to open on the site of the former Pinellas ParkSide mall, 7200 U.S. 19 N.

A long-anticipated Target opened at the beginning of this month. The Target houses a Starbucks and a Pizza Hut.

Businesses began opening this summer with the Park Place Stadium 16 movieplex, which reopened in June. A Wachovia bank branch opened Sept. 12. Chick-fil-A returned to the mall Oct. 19 after being absent several years. An Office Depot is also expected to open soon.

Mall officials announced the names of 30 of the stores late last summer, but the identities of others are still unknown. Developers hope they will all be open in time for Christmas shopping.

American Signature chose the Pinellas Park center as its first in the county because it is centrally located and on U.S. 19, a major artery that makes it easy for people to come from Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

"We are very excited," store manager Ben Gusler said. "I think the area will be good for us and we will be good for the area."

The concept of American Signature, which has designs ranging from traditional to contemporary, is to "give quality at a value," Corley said.

Living room chairs, for example, range from about $70 for a modern lounge chair to a high of $799 for a leather armchair. Sofas range from about $500 to about $1,500. The quality, Corley said, is about the same as a shopper would find at a Haverty's or Ethan Allen.

American Signature says it can hold the prices low on its 13 collections because it cuts out the middleman. The Columbus, Ohio, company has designers on staff and has its own upholstery and bedding plant in North Carolina. The company uses subcontractors for case goods, such as furniture with drawers made of dovetailed wood with cedar lining.

"We try to build in as many quality features as we can while keeping the furniture affordable," Corley said.

The furniture has some uncommon features. Push on the decorative trim of a bedroom chest, for example, and a hidden jewelry drawer pops open. Press on another portion of the trim and another hidden drawer reveals itself.

For those who are decoratively challenged, the company has another helpful feature - a partnership with Sherwin-Williams paints. When customers choose a piece of furniture, they are given a brochure with sketches of other items in the same collection. The brochures include dimensions of the furniture and color swatches for paints that might set off the furniture.

Customers can take the brochure to Sherwin-Williams and buy the paint they want.

"They know those colors will work well with those wood tones," Corley said.