For more than 40 years, a large sign reading “ROTMANS” on a sprawling red-brick building defined a stretch of Interstate 290 in Worcester, inviting people to one of the largest furniture stores in New England.
Now, another sign is on the building: “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.”
Rotmans announced in October that it is closing because its CEO and president, Steve Rotman, is retiring. Since then, the local business has been holding a liquidation sale that includes $20 million worth of furniture, mattresses and rugs. Customers from across Massachusetts have been streaming in to capitalize on discounted prices and take one last look at the iconic store.
“It’s just sad,” said Mary Hippert as she was strolling around the six-floor showroom with her brother to see if there’s anything else she should buy from the store. Over the last few decades, she’s purchased couches, bedroom sets and other furniture.
“It’s a landmark,” Hippert added. “It’s like a little piece of [Worcester] gone.”
Other longtime customers complimented the store’s customer service and the quality of the products. For Carlos Mohareb and his family, Rotmans is especially meaningful because it’s where they bought all their furniture when they moved to Worcester from Egypt seven years ago.
“Memories. All of us choosing our first couch, our first dining set,” Mohareb said, noting they’re now moving into another home and looking to fill that one with new Rotmans products.
The Rotmans family has been selling furniture in Worcester since the 1950s. They first operated a home furnishing division in a department store before opening Rotmans in 1972. By 1986, the store was among the fastest-growing furniture retailers in the country and occupied its current space — 200,000 square feet in a former Worcester carpet mill, according to Furniture Today magazine.
The business has always remained under the family’s control; Murray and Ida Rotman were the original founders before their three sons took over. Steve Rotman, one of the sons and the current CEO and president, has wanted the family to continue running the store. But now he’s retiring and none of his younger relatives want to take it over because they have other careers and interests.
“It was a difficult decision on my end, but you have to understand that I’m 83 years old and I’m working full-time,” Rotman said. “I have to be realistic [with] what I can handle.”
He stressed that finances did not fuel his decision. The store has done well, averaging $30 million annually in business for many years, he said.
Rotman has another eight years remaining on the lease of the building that houses the store, and he’ll control what happens to it through the remainder of the lease. He said he plans to convert it into a marketplace, renting space to other home goods businesses.
“I’m not looking to make the most money out of it. My objective is to serve the public,” he said.
For now, Rotman will continue with the liquidation sale with about 50 employees staying on until the store closes. Some workers said they weren’t surprised about the announcement and are in the process of looking for new jobs. Still, they said it will take time to adjust to not working at the store.
“It means the loss of many friends,” manager Barbara Kane said. “We felt we were part of the Rotman family. I think everyone had a great sense of loyalty to the store, to your customers, to fellow employees.”
Kane said she expects the store to finish the sale and close by the end of January. Once that happens, Rainbow Furniture and Woo Town Furniture will be Worcester’s last remaining locally owned home furnishing stores. People who regularly shop at Rotmans said they may have to start purchasing more of their furniture online or from national chain stores.
For Sandy Guries, a longtime Rotmans customer, the store’s closing means Worcester will lose another business that’s been around for a while. She pointed to other stores — like one called Spag’s — that were common in the greater Worcester area before national chains replaced them.
“Worcester doesn’t have too many stores around anymore that we can say, ‘Hey my great-grandparents shopped there,’” Gurries said. “It’s unsettling that another great business in Worcester is going to be leaving us.”