A squirrel, a dead-end street across from an elementary school, and four seasons.
These were some of the challenges for Phil and Steve Pies, located in a fairly remote and animal-friendly city in western New York, says Steve.
But despite all that and the typical ups and downs of retail, Max Pies Furniture has endured for 118 years since settling in its comfy spot at the end of Jackson Street in 1905. It’s a home, and the place is now passed down to Steve, the fourth generation of the Pize family.
No wonder they won the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year award. And nowhere else can we continue the tradition that began with the sale of furniture and flooring.
“As for this structure and this business from this location, it’s the same location. I did,” said Steve Pies. “They went everywhere from Rochester to Buffalo. I think they were even close to Syracuse at some point in the ’80s. Rochester Linoleum bought all the flooring. But that’s where the name of the original furniture store, Max Pie, came from.”
And both must have naturally come in line with the business, right?
“Well, no,” said Phil.
Phil was married with two children, Steve and Natalie, and lived in Sacramento, California at the time. After his uncle Jake died, he eventually returned to Batavia to work alongside his father Sam. His grandfather worked until his death at the age of 93, and his father also worked until he was 83. Phil has been Max’s friendly face for the last 53 years.
It was a similarly winding road for Steve. Steve didn’t immediately return from college to join the family business. He left for a business degree at Plattsburgh State University, and something about working on cruise ships drew him — he had a vision of “The Love Boat” — and Blackjack’s I went on board to work as a dealer and then worked at a casino in Nevada. He made a career as a card dealer.
He eventually returned home and decided to help his father, who turns 80 in May. They looked back at what had changed over the years, and certainly the costs were significant.
“Fares, insurance and expenses have changed,” said Phil. “And style, we sold a lot of colonial styles, but now we sell a lot more modern styles.
Steve added that retro comes and goes, but change, with added time, effort and unexpected costs, is how furniture arrives today compared to a few years ago.
“It used to be all assembled,” said Steve. “Now he’s called KD at Knockdown. It’s just getting them off the truck, taking them out of the box, screwing and drilling them together, and throwing them in the garbage. It’s a lot more tedious.”
While costs are skyrocketing, the waste management business is booming. Pie has his dumpster that rolls off 40 yards, costs him $800, and he fills up with Styrofoam and boxes three times a month, Steve said. According to Steve, they mostly rely on salespeople for advice and guidance on trends, fads and what to buy throughout the year.
“My father has a good relationship with a lot of our reps, who know what’s out there,” he said. “But we’re trying to keep it diverse, with 20-year-old couples, 70-year-old couples, and couples in between. Dynamic.”
A walk through the showroom downstairs features the painter’s palette of shades of gray, from charcoal and slate to bright silvers. The father-son team agreed, Gray is definitely in now.
Unlike, for example, a more eclectic geographic region such as New York City, this region contains many rural countries with varying desires.
“We have hunters. They want classics. They want camouflage recliners, rocking chairs, and certain bedroom sets that look like plank sheds,” says Steve. He added that there were camouflage recliners in stock that day waiting for avid hunters.
Despite making about $2.5 million in sales, Steve said the staff is small. Time has been shortened over the years, especially when COVID hit, Steve said.
“In these conditions, the biggest challenge for stores like ours in towns like this is getting winter, spring, summer and fall furniture delivered. take it off, go up and down, unload the truck in a blizzard, and you know, we have a building with a leaky roof, we have a squirrel…so we have an old building and four seasons I mean,” he said. “Also, looking at our location, I would say this is the worst place on earth for a furniture retailer, a dead end residential street across from an elementary school. It’s a straightforward answer.
(turning to his father) But you’ve been here for 53 years. Well, yes, there was a time when my father said And sometimes we couldn’t pay our bills,” Steve said. That’s the reality, so there are still highs, lows, and in-between.”
Given that it’s a “circular business” that’s definitely been through the good times in Batavia of yesteryear, what’s the secret?
“It’s where customers send their friends,” he said.
One of the reasons the nominating committee chose Max Pies was Steve, who brought his business “into the 2000s” with his online ordering and website, excellent customer service, and many unique ways to market his business. due to the “tremendous” contribution of
Photo of Steve and Phil Pies at the Max Pies furniture store at 400 S. Jackson St. in Batavia. Photo by Howard Owens.