BY BARB BERGGOETZ
Come early November, the familiar Flat Steve cutout seen for years on South College will have a new home on Bloomington’s north side.
That’s when the bigger-than-life-size cardboard image of Furniture Exchange owner Steve Birch will take its place in a big window at the store’s new location in the former Suburban Lanes bowling alley at 2634 N. Walnut.
“He’s also going to be on the side of the building, but that’s going to be somewhat of a surprise,” says Birch.
Birch has co-owned the store at 424 S. College with his wife, Mindy, since 1997. But they and another partner sold the property, including adjacent commercial and student rentals, to the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center in 2011. Since then, they have been leasing the furniture store space.
The new location, Birch says, has advantages over the present two-story building with no air-conditioning and little parking.
“It’s almost double the square footage, so we’ll display nearly twice as much inventory,” he says. “We’ll have almost 22,000 square feet on one level. That’s going to make it easier for people to shop. And we’ll have air conditioning.”
The new site, north of Ind. 46, is in a small commercial area where Birch will have 40 parking spots. “It’s going to be much easier for people to get in and out, and much more visible,” he says.
Birch was already looking for a permanent location when he and George Schermer, a friend and local businessman, grew interested in the vacant Suburban Lanes property. Schermer says he’s been renovating the building since purchasing it for $270,000 in April 2014. A new roof is up, the bowling lanes are gone, and much of the building’s south side limestone has been replaced by display windows.
“It’s very unique,” says Schermer. “Construction is from the 1960s and it has an interesting, one-of-a-kind beam-and-truss system with 140-foot wooden beams running the length of the building.”
The showroom, expected to open November 1, will offer 70 percent new and 30 percent used furniture, including living room, dining room, and bedroom pieces. Birch says the inventory is priced to appeal to younger people and those who don’t want higher-end furniture.
“It’s essentially going to be a new showroom,” says Birch. “It’s going to be a beautiful building.