Daily News photo/JOHN EBY Eileen and Audrey Maxey with their parents, Carol and Art Springsteen, the second and third generations of Imperial Furniture, founded in 1962 in downtown Dowagiac by Carol’s father, Russell Klapchuk, who died in 1991.

Imperial celebrating 50th anniversary

Published 3:19pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

What:
Imperial Furniture (269/782-5020), which started in 1962 in downtown Dowagiac making mattresses and box springs about where Zeke’s salad bar is today. Imperial Bedding moved to its current two-acre site at 57530 M-51 South in Pokagon Township 10 years later, about the time Ed graduated in 1972. It grew four times.

Who:
Founded by current owner Carol Springsteen’s father, Russell Klapchuk, and his wife, Eleanor, who was a nurse. They lived in an apartment over his bar on Beeson Street. He surprised his family when he returned from a hunting trip and announced his new line of work. The Klapchuks, who had four children, relocated to Indian Lake. “We kids all helped” tuft mattresses with buttons, which, like handles, went away with fire retardant laws.

Customers:
“Everything mushroomed” with the change to Imperial Furniture and home decor furnishings, Carol said. “We serve a 40- to 50-mile radius. We go into Chicago, South Haven, Holland, Kalamazoo occasionally. A huge amount of our business is resort people — Diamond Lake, Paw Paw Lake, Sister Lakes, Vandalia. They like that we’re not a big box store and have unique things.
“And as much as we have here, we’ll special order if they want a different color. We’re still known for bedding. We carry Lady Americana, made in Grand Rapids.” As far as American-made products, there are a number of Amish companies, too.

The second
generation:
Carol and her husband, Art, who had been in the car business, bought Imperial in the early 1990s and expanded accessories for golf or nautical themes. Their three children work in the business, as does their niece, Amy Klapchuk, who also teaches at Southwestern Michigan College.

Merchandising:
Imperial has a website (imperialfurniture.net) and Facebook, but “our business is still old-fashioned because people want to touch it and look at it,” said Audrey Maxey, who co-directed the Miss Dowagiac Scholarship Pageant.
“A lot of what we do is visual, so people come to get inspiration, which you can’t do online,” she said.
Carol adds, “We do a lot of lake slipcovers with fabrics you can sit on in wet bathing suits,” Carol said.
Imperial decorates Harvey’s former show window in his son Doug McKay’s building, drawing in visitors who walk around after dinner.

Coming up:
Mother’s Day weekend Imperial furnishes a house on Big Crooked Lake for a St. Joseph County, Ind., Builders Association showcase which encompasses Granger (former Lindy’s owners Mike and Linda Rogers), South Bend and Niles. Audrey and Eileen present at the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival “Tea by Design.”
Secret to their success: “We don’t hound and high-pressure customers. They come in and wander around to be uplifted and cheered up, which a rug or pillow can do. We’re real laid-back. It’s a fun atmosphere here.”

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